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Pacific briefs, January 31

By Pacific Correspondent Barbara Dreaver

Published: 9:02AM Thursday January 31, 2013

Drugs charges to be dropped

A Tongan court has heard two drugs charges against a Tongan noble and MP Lord Tu'ilakepa are to to be formally withdrawn due to insufficient evidence. The former speaker of the house was the centre of an Australian and Tongan police investigation after he wrote a letter on Tongan parliamentary letterhead sponsoring a Colombian drug lord Obeil Antonio Zuluaga Gomez to stay in Tonga. Police allege Gomez wanted to set up a hub there and direct cocaine shipments. After police tapped phone calls they raided a number of properties including Lord Tu'ilakepa's. He was later charged with possession of illegal weapons and ammunition, possession of an illicit drug and conspiracy to import. Matangi Tonga Online reports that while Lord Tu'ilakepa will face the weapons charges, Crown Law would make a formal submission to withdraw the drugs charges on February 22 at the Supreme Court.

Worry over Moruroa

There's growing concern in French Polynesia over reports secret construction work is being undertaken on Moruroa Atoll. The country's pro-indendence party says it's heard from a number of people a bunker-like building is being constructed on the atoll which was the base for controversial nuclear testing for thirty years. The French High Commission and military has denied any construction work is being done on Moruroa. But the head of the Moruroa e tatou veterans organisation, Roland Oldham, told Radio New Zealand International that allowing a visit to the atoll would help dispel any claims about the construction.

Solomons teachers strike

Teachers in the Solomon Islands are refusing to back down as they take nationwide action over lack of backpay and salary rises. More than 9000 teachers are on an indefinite strike after the government failed to include promised backpay and pay rises in the budget as well as refusing to discuss when they will pay teachers what money they are owed. The country's Trade Dispute Panel has ordered the teachers back to work or they face prosecution. However the National Teachers Association says it's standing firm and its members will continue to strike.

Cooks by-election close result

Preliminary results are in for the tiny Cook Islands electorate of Tamarua on the island of Mangaia. With only fifty six registered voters the count was always going to be close. At this stage the seat could go to the Opposition Democratic Party after their candidate Tetangi Matapo received 25 votes and her rival Tokorua Pareina from the Cook Islands Party received 22. However there are five postal and special votes still to be counted. The by-election was held yesterday following the death in October last year of sitting MP Pukeiti Pukeiti of the Cook Islands Party.

Dolphin slaughter threatens tourism

There's fear the Solomon Islands slaughter of up to one thousand dolphins could affect the country's tourism. Villagers from Fanalei in south Malaita killed the dolphins after a dispute with conservation group Earth Island Institute. The people say the Berkely-based group failed to pay them around half a million dollars as agreed to stop the traditional hunt which they undertake so they can sell dolphin meat and teeth. But a spokesperson from the Earth Island Institute says it has given money but it has been misused. Tourism operators have told Radio Australia they need the Solomon Islands government to intervene as the slaughter makes headlines worldwide. Head of the Solomon Islands Visitors Bureau, Michael Tokuru, says the dolphin killing will have some negative impact on the country's efforts to promote eco-tourism.

Contact our Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver at barbara.dreaver@tvnz.co.nz with your news tips and feedback

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