TONGA PROTESTERS PLEAD NOT GUILTY

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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, June 13) – The leaders of a protest march by about 1,000 people after the opening of the Tongan Legislature on June 1 have been charged an offence after they allegedly refused to obey police instructions during the march.

The President and the Secretary of the People's Democratic Party, Teisina Fuko and Semisi Tapueluelu, and 30 other protesters pleaded not guilty to a charge of "interfering with the course of Justice," in a Nuku'alofa Police Magistrate's Court this morning, June 13.

The 32 defendants were represented by Clive Edwards, a member of parliament who is also a member of the People's Democratic Party.

The presiding Police Magistrate, Salesi Mafi, set a hearing date for July 18.

Teisina and Semisi were referred to as the leaders of 30 protesters, including 15 truck drivers and 17 who were either members of the People’s Democratic Party, public servants, members of the Tonga National Business Association or others, who were not all identified.

On June 12, Chief Inspector Kainga Hia claimed that the 17 protesters had interfered with the work of the Tonga Police during a protest march on June 1 when they proceeded through to Taufa’ahau Road from the Nuku’alofa Primary school grounds well before 2:00 p.m., the scheduled time that was agreed to by the Minister of Police and the organizers of the march

He said that the 15 truck drivers were charged because, despite police instructions that no vehicles were allowed to join procession to Pangai Lahi, they drove their trucks to the Taufa’ahau Road following a separate group of marchers—the Tonga National Business Association, who began their march from the Teufaiva Stadium.

June 14, 2006

Matangi Tonga Magazine: www.matangitonga.to/home/

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