12 Aug 2005

Police call on Tongan strikers to disperse

2:08 pm on 12 August 2005

Police have intervened in the public servants strike in Tonga which is now into its fourth week.

The workers were to march on the palace today but that has been deferred after police moved to prevent them meeting outside the Prime Minister's office where they have gathered each day since the strike started.

Our Tonga correspondent, Mateni Tapeluelu, says the strikers are yet to decide if they will move on.

He says despite the police involvement the strikers remain calm.

"The civil servants have been very civil so far. The atmosphere is quite tense but Tongans, most of them are very conservative. They are still singing songs and hymns here. When they walked right through the police and sat down on the malae [outside meeting place] and the police refused to do anything - they refused to touch anybody. There were no arrests, or none that I am aware of to this moment. But you can actually feel that there is a tense atmosphere. This is the first time that police have moved on to stop marchers from entering a malae, and the first time for them to come face to face. But I think that the committee is handling it well and the police are trying to avoid any direct conflict."