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NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Aug. 8) – Prince Tu'ipelehake today claimed the title of the People's Prince when he led more than 3,000 striking civil servants, their families, and supporters on a march through Nuku'alofa to Pangai Lahi, to present a letter of petition to King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.

Waving banners calling for pay increases, along with Justice, Peace, Solidarity, and even one emblazoned with the revolutionary Che Guevara’s image, they marched from the Teufaiva Stadium to sit in Pangai Lahi next to the Royal Palace.

There, the president of the Public Servants Association, Finau Tutone, handed over to Princess Pilolevu Tuita the petition that the PSA had earlier presented both to the Prime Minister and to Parliament.

Unlike other marches this year, when petitions were received by the King's private secretary, this time the king sent his daughter who was appreciatively received. The marchers stood up on her arrival at Pangai. After prayers, presentations of a live toho pig, a large kava plant, and a pile of 5ft yams, and then the petition, the marchers sang the national anthem for the princess before she left.

The march marked the 18th day of the civil servants' national strike, which has brought the country almost to a stand-still. All government schools were closed, and doctors, and nurses have also joined the strike.

The thousands who marched today were defying a call by government to return to work by 8.30 a.m. today. Government spokesman Hon. ‘Akau’ola and the Minister of Law, Hon. Siaosi ‘Aho, said on Saturday that those who had not returned would be dealt with under the Public Service Act for being absent without leave.

The march to the King today, led by Prince Tu'ipelehake, the king's nephew, who is a Nobles’ Representative to parliament, was an energetic push by the strikers who were hoping that the King will order his ministers to action their demands. Tu’ipelehake had earlier moved a resolution in the House calling on Cabinet to action the petition.

Attempts to resolve the demand for better pay have so far failed. When the PSA petition was presented to the House on July 25, parliament passed Tu'ipelehake’s resolution calling on the Cabinet to action it, but Cabinet ignored it and insisted on the implementation of their standing salary revision package.

However, since the strike began Government negotiators have made three different offers, all of which were rejected by the strikers.

The dispute over figures is mounting with both sides claiming that their figures are the most appropriate to be adopted.

As the strike continues and attracts more supporters, the demand by the strikers has broadened to include political objectives, with no immediate end in sight.

Tomorrow Tuesday, teachers from all government schools will march in Nuku’alofa.

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

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