30 Apr 2004

Sombre mood in Fiji's capital for Ratu Mara's state funeral

8:47 am on 30 April 2004

The mood is sombre in Fiji's capital, as representatives from many countries in the gather in Suva for the state funeral of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer, along with the heads of government of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, will be present at the ceremony.

Representing New Zealand, is Governor-General Dame Sylvia Cartwright, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Phil Goff, and a large delegation including Maori Queen Dame Te Atai Rangikaahu.

Phil Goff says forty conch shells were sounded throughout the night, adding to the mournful atmosphere.

Mr Goff says many Fijians, including women wearing the traditional black, have been paying their respects as Ratu Mara lies in state.

He says many people are expected at today's funeral ceremony:

"I think the ceremony today is going to be huge affair. They're talking about tens of thousands of people turning up to pay their respects to the man who was the founding father of this country."

Phil Goff says New Zealand has now taken the opportunity to make a huge contribution to victims affected by the flash floods in Fiji which left thousands homeless.