Tongan king vows greater democracy
Tupou V speaks for the first time since last week's riots demanding reform
NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga » Tonga's royal ruler promised more democratic government for his Pacific island nation today, a week after rioters went on a deadly rampage demanding faster political reforms.
King George Tupou V, speaking for the first time since the riot in a solemn ceremony to close Parliament for the year, said he expected "a more democratic form of Parliament and government" to emerge from reform proposals being discussed in the kingdom.
Tight security, including troops and police from Australia and New Zealand deployed to help after the riot, ringed the capital of Nuku'alofa as Tupou V told assembled lawmakers, dignitaries and diplomats they were meeting "in somber mood."
"A few meters away, buildings lie burned, bodies have been retrieved from the ashes and our capital is silent as it has never (been) before," he said.
Parliament's closure was delayed a week after rioters ran amok in Nuku'alofa last Thursday, looting and torching 80 percent of the downtown business area. At least six people died in the fires.
As the violence raged, the government agreed last week to a plan ensuring 21 of the 30 seats in Parliament would be elected starting in 2008. The king currently appoints the majority of lawmakers, the prime minister and the Cabinet.
The decision came too late to prevent the rampage by hundreds of mainly young people outraged at what they perceived was government heel-dragging on the reforms.
The king said differences among various plans for reform "are not irreconcilable and can be resolved through dialogue."
Hundreds of ethnic Chinese have flown out of Tonga to Fiji, from where the Chinese government has provided an evacuation flight to China, said Nuku'alofa businessman Jeremy Chan.
Businesses owned by ethnic Chinese fared badly in the riot, which also targeted government buildings. Chinese migrants are sometimes resented by locals who view them as outsiders despite many Chinese families being there for generations.