21 Nov 2006

New Zealand defence personnel to assist with planned closure of Tonga's Parliament

11:34 am on 21 November 2006

The commander of the New Zealand-Australian force in Tonga, Lieutenant Colonel Darren Beck, says his personnel will help Tongan security forces oversee the closure of parliament on Thursday.

The assembly was expected to be closed for six months last Thursday but in the face of mass demonstrations by pro-democracy supporters outside the building, the final sitting of the year failed to take place.

The pro-democracy camp claimed that the prime minister's letter released at the height of the protests, confirmed that 21 members of the 30-strong assembly would be elected by the people once Tonga goes to the polls in 2008.

The commitment hasn't been confirmed and it's not known if the issue will be debated on the final day of parliament.

Lt Col Beck says now that his forces have secured the airport, they'll help with the closure of the assembly which is to be conducted by the king.

"It's the closing of Parliament for Christmas which is occurring on Thursday. What they have done is expanded the exclusion zone in town as part of their emergency proclamation, which will extend the powers of the military to provide peace and stability and we will look at supporting that."