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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 4) – On today's public holiday to mark the 130th year of the Tongan Constitution, a political rally of about 200 people at Pangai Si'i in Nuku'alofa was told that the constitution deprives them of fundamental rights.

The gathering at Pangai Si'i heard the opposite meaning of what traditionally most Tongans perceived this day to be - Emancipation Day.

One of the speakers, Clive Edwards, Tonga's former Minister of Police and the Tongatapu No. 3 People's Representative to Parliament, told the crowd that the constitution deprived them of a fundamental right, "the right to elect a government, and the leaders."

Edwards said that the ordinary people of Tonga have, "no voice, no right and no freedom."

The other main speaker of the day was Lopeti Senituli, the director of the Tonga Trust and the deputy chairman of the Tonga Human Rights and Democracy Movement.

Lopeti, like Edwards, has drawn up a proposed model of government for Tonga. He advocates political reform but his model of government differs from that of Edwards and a third model by another political reform campaigner, Laki Niu.

Laki Niu, the president of the Tonga Law Society, and a small group of followers have been gathering at Pangai Si'i every day for the past two weeks to speak and discuss the model of government that he proposed for Tonga.

But Laki was not at Pangai Si'i today.

The crowd was not as many as the organisers expected, but nevertheless those who attended enjoyed themselves by dancing to electric music, drinking kava, and covering their ears when Tongan soldiers fired a gun salute at the seafront flag pole nearby at mid-day to mark the public holiday.

November 7, 2005

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