3 Aug 2005

More than 700 school pupils join Tonga civil servants protest

3:30 pm on 3 August 2005

More than 700 pupils at the two government schools on Tonga's main island have joined a rally in support of striking civil servants.

Up to 4,000 people have gathered for the latest protest in the centre of the capital, Nuku'alofa.

There's no word on whether the Cabinet, which met last night, has come up with any new proposals to meet the civil servants' demands.

As Mateni Tapueluelu reports from Nuku'alofa, the pupils are following the lead of their headteachers.

"Government schools are supposed to be on a two-week break now, but they consider this a strike. The head prefect of the Tonga High School gave a speech and said that students are getting involved now in politics, and they are intelligent enough to understand the corruption that is happening in the government, and they have shown their support for government civil servants."

The coffee farmer and exporter, Paul Karalus, says the strikers have taken away a large slice of spending power.

The civil service does make up a sizeable proportion of the wage earners of the Kingdom, there being four to five thousand of them, so the spending has dried up quite significantly.

Mr Karalus says imports and exports are still possible as the air and sea ports are open.

He says the strike's biggest impact will be on merchandising and those expecting government payments for contractual work.