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Monarch responsible for reforms remembered fondly

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Radio New Zealand International, March 19, 2012) – The King of Tonga, George Tupou V, has died in a Hong Kong hospital.

The official announcement of His Majesty’s passing on was made early this morning at about 6am on Radio Tonga.

The official announcement was made by the Prime Minister, Lord Tu’ivakano, as per protocol.

It says His Majesty passed away at St. Mary’s hospital of Hong Kong at 3pm local time on Sunday.

It says the untimely death of His Majesty "po’uli mo e loa ta’e’amanekina," "an unexpected black storm cloud" has covered the entire Kingdom.

His brother and heir-apparent to the Throne, Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka was beside His Majesty when he passed away.

The announcement asks the nation to pray for comfort for the Royal Family and all the people of Tonga during this sad time.

Tupou V was sworn in as king in September 2006 following the death of his father king Taufa’ahau Tupou IV.

However his coronation was delayed until 2008 as the tiny kingdom reeled from the impact of riots in the capital Nuku’alofa.

[PIR editor’s note: Dr. Feleti Sevele, who worked with the late king on democratic reform processes, called the king "one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever come across." Dr. Sitiveni Halapua added that the king "oversaw fundamental political change in Tonga," notwithstanding the important transition towards more democratic government.]

A pro-democracy MP in Tonga says it is a dark moment for the Kingdom.

Akilisi Pohiva says the Prime Minister made a statement on local media this morning, announcing the King’s death.

Mr. Pohiva says King George’s legacy will be ushering in increased democracy in Tonga.

"I think everyone feels and sympathizes with the passing away of our king. We Tongans regard the action, or the moves made by His Majesty to increase the number of people’s representatives from 9 to 17, as a historical event. And although political reform is not yet complete, his willingness to start is a very significant event."

The chair of the Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, says King George will be remembered for accelerating democratic changes in the country.

Mr. Maka says, putting aside the King’s reportedly lavish lifestyle, he has done great things for Tonga.

"For us and for those who have been have been calling for a more democratic Tonga, it is sad, because he masterminded all the changes that Tonga is currently having at the moment."

An Auckland based lawyer, Kahu Barron Afeaki, says people are in shock by the news.

"Tonga’s reeling, both overseas, and in Tonga. It will take a while to absorb what’s happened. In my view, King George V gave more than just a hastening of democracy, he actually gave a lot more freedom and gave a lot more power to the people."

[PIR editor’s note: Meanwhile, at home and abroad, Tongan flags will fly at half-mast out of respect and mourning for King Tupou V. Tonga’s Free Wesleyan Church has begun preparations for the king’s funeral as officials travel to Hong Kong to discuss arrangements with the newly-crowned king.]

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