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Tongan coronation events begin

30 July 08 12:05 GMT

Celebrations marking the coronation of the King of Tonga have begun with a traditional ceremony in the South Pacific nation's capital, Nuku'alofa.

King George Tupou V was given roasted pig and kava, a mild narcotic drink.

Events will continue until Friday, when he will formally receive his crown at a Christian ceremony.

Tonga is one of the few nations where the monarch runs the government, but the king has said he will give up his near absolute authority.

New era

King George V has been the country's head of state and leader since the death of his father in 2006, but the celebrations marking his formal coronation have only just got under way.

He arrived outside the royal palace led by a spear-wielding warrior.

He was presented with dozens of roasted pigs, hundreds of bowls of fruit, and the traditional bowl of kava, made from pounded roots.

The gifts are said to represent the abundance and natural riches of his kingdom.

As is the custom, the king slurped the kava down in one, to the cheers and applause of his audience. At that very moment he became the king.

In a ceremony attended by the country's nobles and chiefs, the monarch sat with his back against a tree trunk, now a tradition but originally a cautionary move to guard against assassination.

But for all the custom and ritual, the king has promised to usher in a new era of democratic reform, and to vest more powers with parliament.

On Monday, his spokesman said he would surrender his role in day-to-day governmental affairs and be guided by the prime minister.

He has promised to divest himself of his business interests and move towards a more democratic system for his country's 100,000 or so inhabitants, but so far he has not given a timetable for any of these changes.

Unrest at a pro-democracy rally in the capital in 2006 boiled over into riots that left eight people dead and destroyed much of the city.

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