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Foreign rule, war provide backdrop

By Erin Thompson KOROR, Palau (Palau Horizon, Oct. 11, 2010) – The drizzling rain that washed over the crowded tents in waves didn't deter the approximately 500 attendees at yesterday's Palauan Independence Day festivities at the Paseo de Susana from joyously celebrating the 16th year of autonomous governance for the island nation.

The all-day event brought together members of the Guam and Palauan communities, local politicians and off-island dignitaries that included the Palauan president during an afternoon of eating, dancing and music.

"I didn't realize it was going to be like this," said Palauan President Johnson Toribiong while watching a spirited performance by a local Tahitian dance group. He said he was expecting a small gathering of Palauans, not the large turnout and festive atmosphere on display yesterday.

The celebration commemorates the 16-year anniversary of the Compact of Free Association, which the western Pacific island nation entered into on Oct. 1, 1994, with the United States. The compact allows Palauan citizens to live and work in the U.S. and its territories.

The president said he was "overwhelmed" by the outpouring of support, congratulations and hospitality from the Guam community. He added that he felt a "brotherhood" with the island, which is home to more than 2,140 Palauan citizens, according to the 2000 Census.

Toribiong said that after being ruled by foreign powers for more than a century and undergoing the devastation of the war, the independence of his country was "very, very important" to him.

"Our forefathers were dreaming about it; now we live the dream," said Toribiong.

Not only does independence mean inclusion in the United Nations, it also means to ability to control the island's natural resources and pursue environmental sustainability -- something he has worked to promote while in office.

"Because we're sovereign over our land and seas, so we can adapt and enforce policies without a higher authority," said Toribiong.

To highlight the importance of sustainability, the event featured coconut-themed dishes and decorations, said Ted Iyechad, Palau Community Association president and a University of Guam professor at the College of Natural and Applied Sciences.

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