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King of Tonga crowned

Published: 12:41PM Wednesday July 30, 2008 Source: Reuters/ONE News

The latest chapter in a royal dynasty stretching back a thousand years has taken place with the coronation of the new King of Tonga.

Hundreds attended the enthronement of King George Tupou V in a ceremony in Nuku'alofa.

The 60-year-old king defied the tropical conditions, wearing a scarlet velvet coronation robe trimmed in white ermine fur.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark attended, along with royal dignitaries from the South Pacific and Britain's duke and duchess of Gloucester, the crown prince of Japan and Princess Sirindhorn of Thailand.

Many Tongans based overseas made the trip home.

The Tongan prime minister has defended the lavish nature of the celebrations, saying they are part of Tongan custom. The new king is a bachelor without any known heir and will be Tonga's 23rd and possibly last king.

On Thursday around 70 cooked pigs and hundreds of baskets of food were presented to the new king in a traditional South Pacific coronation ceremony.

Tonga is a group of 170 coral islands sprinkled across an area of about 2,000 kilometres north of New Zealand. It is the South Pacific's last monarchy, where the royal family controls a semi-feudal political system and where all cabinet posts are decided by the king.

On Wednesday his people staged the Taumafa Kava ceremony.

"The Taumafa Kava is the traditional coronation ceremony for the Tongan people," Alfred Soakai, from the prime minister's office, said.

Wearing a traditional Tongan ta'ovala woven mat skirt and a garland of flowers, the new king arrived at the Taumafa Kava in the capital Nuku'alofa behind a spear-wielding warrior from Fiji. No Tongan can walk in front of the king or touch his food.

The new king sat on a pile of handwoven pandanus mats on an open pavilion facing the sea, while more than 200 Tongan nobles and chiefs dressed in woven skirts and sea shells circled him.

With hundreds of palm-leaf baskets of food and rows of cooked pigs trussed on wooden sticks laid out before him, the king took the first drink of kava, a mildly narcotic drink made from crushed kava root, signifying he was the first Tongan.

The Master of the Royal Household, Honourable Tu'ivanuavou, told the South Pacific news service PACNEWS that the ceremony "was an act of homage and a confirmation of allegiance".

"It marked the sealing by the nobles, the chiefs and the people of the sacred authority from his majesty derived from his ancestry," he said.

Schoolchildren held 30,000 torches on Wednesday night to proclaim King George Tupou V's coronation to the world.

Reformist King

Violent protests erupted in Tonga in 2006, in which eight people were killed and much of the island nation's businesses destroyed, as people demanded political reforms.

In April 2008, Tongans voted pro-democracy lawmakers into parliament, with some of those elected still facing sedition charges for the 2006 riots.

Tonga's new king has said he will relinquish his political powers once on the throne "to meet the democratic aspirations of many of his people".

Tonga will spend US$2.7 million on the coronation, which includes traditional ceremonies and a church service on Friday reflecting Tonga's Christian nature, but also three royal balls, a military parade, an open-air concert and fireworks displays.

The royal robes come from a Saville Row tailor in London.

The Tongan government said guests invited for the final coronation include the Britain's Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, the Crown Prince and Crown Princess of Japan and Princess Sirindhorn of Thailand.

There will also be many South Pacific royals, including the Maori King from New Zealand, an Hawaiian princess, Samoan and Fijian royalty, and nobility from many island nations.

Tonga, like many small South Pacific nations, is rugby-mad, so there will also be a coronation rugby match involving players from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and England.

TVNZ has highlights coverage of the King's coronation on TVONE. The full coronation is being streamed live on tvnz.co.nz from 9am Friday.

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