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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 10:41 GMT
Tonga tense over king's health
King Taufa'ahau Tupou pictured in 1996
The government last month denied the king was dying
Armed palace guards have blocked off part of the Tongan capital amid growing alarm over the 82-year-old king's health.

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV returned last week from New Zealand where he underwent heart treatment.


There is a leadership crisis in the country

Akilisi Pohiva, MP
On Thursday, he appeared frail when he was taken by wheelchair to formally to close the Legislative Assembly he controls.

It was the first time he had been seen in a wheelchair and observers said he appeared confused and shaky.

"He is not going to last much longer," said pro-democracy movement leader and member of parliament Akilisi Pohiva.

He told AFP news agency a number of roads in the capital Nuku'alofa had been blocked off.

"There is uncertainty and confusion," he said. "There is a leadership crisis in the country... we really don't know what is going on."

Succession battle

The heir to the throne, Crown Prince Tupuotoa, is apparently battling with his sister, Princess Pilolevu Tuita, for control.


The king's second son, Prime Minister Prince Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, has kept out of the political battle. He is second in succession and a strong supporter of his brother over his sister.

A deeply conservative, Christian country, Tonga is ruled by the king supported by hereditary noblemen who together have a perpetual majority in parliament, electing 70% of its 30 members.

Assembly members listening to the king's speech on Thursday said he confused them by saying Tonga needed 4,000 Chinese and adding that he wanted the kingdom to manufacture shark nets for the United States.

Denials

Last month the Tongan Government denied the king was near death while in Auckland, saying he was well enough to go shopping and attend church.

But palace sources gave a different story.

Born in 1918, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV became king when his mother, Queen Salote Tupou III, died in 1965.

Educated in Australia, where he obtained a degree in law, he was the first Tongan monarch to receive a Western university education and the first Tongan to gain a university degree.

Before acceding to the throne, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV held ministerial posts in education and health and also served as prime minister.

See also:

06 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tonga's jester has last laugh
22 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Tonga gene pool rights acquired
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Tonga
03 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: Tonga
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