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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 November 2006, 15:35 GMT
Tongan PM speaks of riot 'shame'
New Zealand soldier arrives in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa
About 150 foreign troops have arrived in Tonga's capital
Tongan prime minister Fred Sevele has described the recent violence over democratic reforms as "a day of shame".

In an interview, he cited the need to restore law and order as his reason for appealing to Australia and New Zealand for extra soldiers and police.

At least eight people died when crowds ransacked much of the centre of the Pacific nation's capital, Nuku'alofa. The city is now said to be calm.

The unrest was sparked by concern about the slow pace of democratic reform.

The government has now announced major changes ahead of elections in 2008.

In remarks broadcast by Australian radio on Sunday, the prime minister said he had no intention of stepping down.

A burnt-out building in Nuku'alofa, Tonga
My main concern is to look at what needs to be done to reconstruct Tonga
Prime Minister Fred Sevele

"I never thought that the day would come where I see Tongans taking to the streets like that. It's a day of shame for us Tongans," Mr Sevele said.

"My main concern is to look at what needs to be done to reconstruct Tonga, to bring back law and order into this society, and that is why we have asked Australia and New Zealand for some assistance."

About 150 back-up soldiers and police officers have arrived in Tonga - Australia sent about 85 men, with New Zealand providing the remainder.

Australia's Prime Minister John Howard and his New Zealand counterpart Helen Clark announced the mission at a joint press conference in Vietnam, where they were attending a regional summit.

"Being the largest and wealthiest countries in the region, part of our responsibility is to help," said Mr Howard.

Soothe tensions

Many buildings in Nuku'alofa have been destroyed in the rioting, including the government and prime minister's offices, the power company, Nuku'alofa's only bank and a number of Chinese-owned shops.

Tonga map

The trouble has been blamed on gangs with links to pro-democracy groups, says the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney.

They have been agitating for political reform in a country where the king wields enormous power.

The embattled government of Mr Sevele has now announced sweeping reforms, which it is hoped will soothe tensions, our correspondent says.

The intervention by Australia follows similar action in the Solomon Islands and comes amid fears of a military coup in Fiji, our correspondent adds.

Australia is concerned that trouble in the region could be exploited by extremists or drug traffickers.

Reform plans

The rioting began after the government assembly failed to pass democratic reforms before it went into recess.

The Tongan king appoints 10 of the 14 cabinet members to their posts for life, with the other four reserved for "nobility".

Hereditary noblemen hold the majority of seats in the country's parliament.

After the death of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in September, a government committee recommended that all lawmakers be elected by the public.

King Tupou IV reigned for 41 years and was opposed to reforms.

His son and heir, Siaosi Tupou V, is thought to be more in favour of change.




SEE ALSO
Six found dead after Tonga riots
17 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Tonga riots aftermath
17 Nov 06 |  In Pictures
Tongan riots after reforms delay
16 Nov 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Tonga 'should have elected MPs'
06 Oct 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Tonga gets first elected leader
13 Feb 06 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: Tonga
13 Feb 06 |  Country profiles

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