6 Mar 2006

Britain lowers flag in Tonga to mark withdrawal from three Pacific nations

7:16 am on 6 March 2006

Britain has lowered the Union Jack at its High Commission in Tonga to mark its diplomatic withdrawal from three Pacific Island nations.

The UK has closed missions in Kiribati and Vanuatu as part of cutbacks intended to focus its aid on Africa.

Tonga's acting prime minister, Dr Feleti Sevele, says English missionaries played a significant role in ensuring the Pacific Kingdom was never colonised.

Tongans fought with the Allies in two World Wars and the late Queen Salote led a national fundraising drive to buy three Spitfires.

Tonga's first pilot, 'Alipate Tupou, was in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during the Second World War and later became Prime Minister of Tonga.