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By Patrick Antoine Decloitre

SUVA, Fiji (Oceania Flash, Dec. 28) - Traditional Wallis island chiefs and villagers have this week for the first time paid bedside Holiday respects to the 87-year-old King of Wallis, whose health has been deteriorating for the past few weeks.

[PIR editor’s note: The neighboring islands of Wallis and Futuna, located just west of Samoa, are a French territory. ]

The King of Wallis, Tomasi Kulimoetoke, also known locally as the "Lavelua", was crowned in 1959.

He has been unable to attend several official ceremonies since August this year, French broadcaster RFO reports.

Several official ceremonies have since had to be held without his attendance.

This week, chiefly houses and well-wishers from Wallis islands paid their traditional Holiday respects to the King, but had to see him at his bedside.

They had brought gift and also offered prayers to the ailing monarch.

For the first time, one of the prominent village chiefs, Sione Initua Folau Fakate, the chief of Ahoa village, openly mentioned the King's poor health condition and went as far as making a reference to the person that "will replace him".

Two years after his coronation, in 1961, Kulimoetoke signed a pact with France that granted both Wallis and Futuna islands the official status of "French Overseas Territory".

The other two Kings are from Futuna island: they are the Tuisigave, for the Kingdom of Sigave and the Tuigaifo, for the kingdom of Alo.

Wallis and Futuna islands, located Northeast of Fiji, are populated by around fifteen thousand inhabitants.

Another twenty thousand-strong community from those islands is also residing in New Caledonia (populated by around 250,000).

In September 2005, Wallis Island was the scene of grave confrontations between rivalling factions within the royal family.

A faction of the royal family, calling itself "pro-reform", demanded changes towards a more democratic form of society.

The tension, which appeared to be an early symptom of a succession tussle, had arisen from criminal convictions imposed to the King of Wallis's grandson, who had later taken refuge at his grandfather's Palace to evade the French justice and a jail sentence.

After a blockade organised by armed supporters of the King initially prevented French troops to land on Wallis airport and another self-proclaimed "pro-reform" faction from within the Wallis royal family had sided with the French government in an apparent bid to seize power, the situation reverted to a status quo with France reaffirming its support to the ageing King.

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