MATANGI VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Staffers in a store in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, made their way through rubble yesterday after rioters destroyed the store. Youths infuriated by a lack of political reforms attacked the prime minister's offices and other government buildings in Tonga's capital.
Isle Tongans aghast at country's upheaval
Police in the capital face violent mobs and charred bodies
Tongans in Hawaii expressed dismay over the rioting that has shattered their home country's capital, Nuku'alofa, this week.
"Everybody didn't expect that kind of riot to happen in Tonga," said Associate Pastor Ane Aholelei of the Tongan congregation at Kilohana United Methodist Church in Niu Valley. "It's a very peaceful country."
Yesterday, firefighters found six charred bodies in the scorched rubble of a building set ablaze a day earlier by a rampaging mob in the capital city. Authorities have restricted movement in the aftermath of violence in the South Pacific kingdom.
The six dead were believed to be looters or rioters, as staff of the power company were all accounted for after the building was torched two days ago, according to the government.
The violence erupted after crowds gathered in the capital, demanding that parliament pass democratic reforms before it ended its annual session Wednesday (Hawaii time). A crowd of young people set fires, overturned cars and looted shops in the country with a population of about 115,000.
Prime Minister Fred Sevele declared most of the city a "proclaimed area" yesterday under the country's Public Order Preservation Act, "into which movement is severely restricted," government spokesman Lopeti Senituli said.
MATANGI VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS
Tonga's government offices burned in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, yesterday after youths angered by a lack of political reforms rioted.
"The priority is to secure peace so that people can feel secure in their own homes and neighborhoods," Senituli said. "Most of the fires have died down but the damage has been widespread and major."
Tongans in Hawaii are worried.
"This has been going on in the parliament, the change, you know disagreement, dissatisfaction with the king, but to go out and do this -- this is something terrible, it's a shock," said Aholelei.
Aholelei said the service Wednesday remained solemn after the news of the riots broke. Many in the congregation have families in Nuku'alofa and called them to check whether they were OK, she said.
Mary Piltz, a Tongan living in Laie, said, "It seems like the last generation of royalty, they seem to be selfish; and I can understand why the young ones are doing what they're doing. But I feel very sad because it's a beautiful island."
The young Tongans, apparently angry at the lack of political reform in this semifeudal society, targeted several businesses formerly connected with King Saiosi Tupou V and to Prime Minister Fred Sevele. But many other businesses were damaged as well. Witnesses estimated more than half the city's shopping district had been razed by the fires.
As troops filled the streets, Tonga's monarch was believed to be at a royal villa outside the capital.
Pro-democracy lawmaker 'Akalisi Pohiva blamed the riot on the government's delay of promised political reforms. He said the prime minister waited until the end of the legislative session to sign a measure authorizing elections that will give democratically elected representatives a majority in parliament.
Star-Bulletin reporter Robert Shikina and the Associated Press contributed to this report.