6 Dec 2005

Reformists, church members, rally in Tongan capital

9:18 am on 6 December 2005

There was tension in the streets of Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa, yesterday with both pro-democracy advocates and a conservative church group holding rallies around the town's Pangai Si'i square.

The Committee for Political Reform's march of around five thousand was countered by the Methodist Church's March for Christ, led by the King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV.

The two groups, which hurled abuse at each other, had to be kept apart by police.

Our reporter in Tonga, Mateni Tapueluelu, says the Committee for Political Reform made its decision on the timing of its rally with particular care.

"It was a public holiday yesterday on the birthday of the first King who emancipated the people of Tonga from the rule of the nobles and the democracy are saying that their aim is to finish off the job and fully free the people politically and allow the people to elect all the members of parliament."

The Committee is to call formally for the King to endorse change by January or they will take other action to force reform.