March 19, 2012 in Nation/World

Tonga’s reformist king dies

Nick Perry Associated Press

King George Tupou V
(Full-size photo)

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Tonga’s King George Tupou V, who gave up most of his powers to bring a more democratic government to his Pacific island nation, died Sunday at a Hong Kong hospital. He was 63.

Tongan Prime Minister Lord Siale’ataonga Tu’ivakano said in a brief radio address today that the king had died at 3 p.m. Sunday during a visit to Hong Kong. He didn’t give a cause of death, but said further details and funeral plans would be released when available.

The prime minister said the king’s younger brother and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka, was at the king’s side when he died.

The king, who was a bachelor, had a liver transplant last year and suffered other health problems, according to Tongan media reports. He had reigned over the island nation of 106,000 since his father, King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, died in 2006.

The father had long resisted ceding any powers of Tonga’s absolute monarchy during his four-decade rule. But after his death, rioters unhappy with the pace of reforms took to the streets and destroyed the center of the capital, Nuku’alofa.

Against that backdrop, the new king delayed his official coronation until 2008 while he put together the framework for sweeping political reforms. Three days before the coronation ceremony, Tupou announced he was ceding most of his executive powers to a democratically elected parliament. The king remains head of state, and some parliament seats are reserved for nobility.

While the parliament is now responsible for much of the day-to-day running of the country, the king retains the right to veto laws, decree martial law and dissolve the parliament.

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