Foreign forces arrive in Tonga to keep order after riots that killed at least 8

Sunday, November 19, 2006

NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga -- International troops secured the airport in riot-scarred Tonga and commercial flights were to begin evacuating frightened foreigners from the island on Sunday, Australia's foreign minister said.

Police and soldiers from Australia and New Zealand arrived on the impoverished Pacific island on Saturday following street violence Thursday that killed at least eight people and destroyed most of the capital's business district.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer predicted the airport would reopen today, allowing frightened foreign residents to leave.

"The situation in Tonga is quiet at the moment, fortunately, and has been since the riots took place the other night," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television late Saturday. "Hopefully, there won't be any more problems and we'll be able to withdraw fairly soon."

Sixty troops and 10 police from New Zealand and 85 Australian soldiers and police arrived in the kingdom's capital on Saturday.

The troops will secure infrastructure, including the airport, power stations, broadcasting systems and key government buildings.

Downer said any of the 300 Australians in Tonga could be evacuated if they wished.

"That's up to them. Some of them feel a bit nervous depending on who they work for ... and others feel perfectly safe," he said.

The violence was triggered by anger that Parliament might finish this year's session without settling plans to introduce reforms that would give democratically elected lawmakers a parliamentary majority over royally appointed legislators.

Tonga, halfway between Australia and Tahiti, has about 108,000 people. Its economy depends on pumpkin and vanilla exports, fishing, foreign aid and remittances from Tongans abroad.

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