Tue, Sep 12, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Tongan king dies, Tupouto to take throne

AP , WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND

The King of Tonga relaxes at a reception held at Admiralty House in Sydney in this photograph dated Sept. 16, 2000. The South Pacific kingdom's government announced yesterday that the 88-year-old King of Tonga had died in a New Zealand hospital, ending one of the world's longest reigns by a monarch in modern times.

PHOTO: EPA

Crown Prince Tupouto is ascending to the throne of Tonga after the death in New Zealand of his father King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV late on Sunday, the South Pacific nation's Lord Chamberlain said yesterday.

The Tongan government formally announced yesterday that King Tupou IV died late Sunday night in Mercy Hospital in the northern city of Auckland where he had been receiving treatment for much of the past year. He was 88 and had reigned for 41 years.

Upon his death his heir, Crown Prince Tupouto'a, became king -- but a formal coronation was likely to be a year away, said the Honorable Noble Fielakepa, Lord Chamberlain to the Tongan royal household.

Until then, "he will be effectively the King," he said.

Under Tongan tradition, mourning for the late king will occur over a period of nearly a year, with special ritual ceremonies occurring 10 days and 100 days after his burial in Tonga.

New Zealand's National Radio quoted Tonga's Chief Justice Tony Ford saying the new monarch, King Taufa'ahau Tupou V, will take the vows in the Tongan Constitution yesterday, and his coronation will occur later.

The formal announcement of the King Tupou IV's death stated: "The sun has set in the Kingdom of Tonga."

It said the king was surrounded by his wife Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho and members of the royal family. The body of the late king, accompanied by royal family members, has since been removed from the hospital.

It was to be taken to the Tongan royal residence in Auckland today where it will lie in state for one night.

This will allow thousands of Tongan residents of New Zealand to pay respects to their late monarch.

A New Zealand air force airplane will then fly the body back to Tonga tomorrow where it will lie in state. Details of his funeral were still to finalized, Fielakepa said.

"He will be lying in state and then have a state funeral but as for timing in Nuku'alofa [the Tongan capital], I believe the government will want to give time for overseas dignitaries who may want to pay their respects," he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said the people of Tonga had revered the king throughout his 41-year reign.

She said King Tupou IV, who assumed the throne in 1965 after the death of his mother Queen Salote Tupou, had presided over Tonga's transformation into a fully fledged member of the Commonwealth and the UN as an independent sovereign state, she said.

He had followed a path of peace and stability for his country, she added.

"While retaining the important cultural heritage and institutions of Tonga, he also sought to place Tonga in a position to take advantage of the benefits of economic globalization. Achieving this difficult balance will be perhaps the king's greatest legacy for Tonga," Clark said in a statement.

Flags on New Zealand government buildings were to fly at half staff yesterday and on the day of the funeral as a mark of respect to the king, she noted.

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