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NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, July 18) – The five Tongan People's Representatives who face criminal charges relating to the destruction of Nuku'alofa on November 16, 2006, appeared at the Nuku'alofa Supreme Court for the first time this morning to make their pleas.

The five accused are Clive Edwards, 'Uliti Uata, 'Akilisi Pohiva, 'Isileli Pulu and Lepolo Taunisila who have been charged with seven counts, each with one count of sedition and six counts of abetment to cause disruption that ended in the destruction of six different premises, namely Molisi Tonga Supermarket, Pacific Royale Hotel, Tungi Arcade, Shoreline Building, Fung Shing Supermarket and Leiola Duty Free Shop on November 16.

They all pleaded not guilty to all charges and four chose to be tried before a jury, with only Clive Edwards opting for a trial by judge alone.

Crown Prosecutor Peter Little commented in court that the trial could take about three months. He said he would be calling 50 witnesses to give evidence.

Chief Justice Ford said there would be a chamber on August 7 when a date will be set for the beginning of the trial, and November 26 was mentioned as a possible starting date.

'Akilisi Pohiva and 'Uliti Uata were represented by Christopher Harder while Masao Maasi represented 'Isileli Pulu and Lepolo Taunisila. Clive Edwards represented himself at their first appearance in the Supreme Court today.

[PIR editor’s note: A total of 678 people - ranging in age from nine to 70 - have so far been arrested on charges related to the November 16 Tonga riot, which destroyed around 80 per cent of Nuku’alofa’s central business district.]

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