16 Nov 2006

The centre of Tonga's capital destroyed by rioters

9:14 pm on 16 November 2006

Rampaging drunken youths attached to the Tonga pro-democracy movement have destroyed the business district of the country's capital.

Fire is now spreading to outlying parts of the town.

The youths began rioting in the middle of this afternoon after the government had deferred todays sitting, the last scheduled for this year.

The pro-democracy movement had been demanding an immediate vote vote on democratic reforms rather than delaying it till next year as the government wants.

The Government eventually gave into these demands but our correspondent in Nuku'Alofa, Mateni Tapueluelu, says that move came too late to save the city centre.

"The main shopping centre's already burned down, in blocks. It started first with the prime minister's own shopping centre. The people looted that, they started drinking the beer, they looted that shop and from there no one could control them. Fromt here they shifted to the Leiola Duty Free shop and they started drinking some more alcohol in there, looted the money, distributed the money to the people and from there the fire started spreading from blocks to blocks. I have just travelled from the city centre to where I am speaking to you now - a distance of about three kilometres - and I saw Chinese shops being looted and burning, so the looting and burning is spreading from the city centre."