Tonga’s prime minister, who nurtured democracy, dies at 78

Prime Minister of Tonga Samiuela Akilisi Pohiva was also known for his fight against global warming. (File/Reuters)
Updated 12 September 2019

Tonga’s prime minister, who nurtured democracy, dies at 78

  • Pohiva died at the Auckland City Hospital at about 9 a.m. after being medically evacuated to New Zealand a day earlier
  • He had been hospitalized in Tonga for two weeks suffering from pneumonia before his condition turned critical

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Tongan Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, who helped wrest power from the royal family and bring greater democracy to the small Pacific island nation, died Thursday. He was 78.
Pohiva died at the Auckland City Hospital at about 9 a.m. after being medically evacuated to New Zealand a day earlier, political adviser Lopeti Senituli told The Associated Press. Prior to that, he had been hospitalized in Tonga for two weeks suffering from pneumonia before his condition turned critical, Senituli said.
“He will be remembered as the champion of democracy and being primarily responsible for the democratic reforms that were incorporated into the country’s constitution in 2010,” Senituli said.
Pohiva was also known for his fight against global warming. Archipelagos like Tonga, which is made up 171 islands and is home to 106,000 people, are particularly vulnerable to rising seas.
Pohiva spent more than three decades in office after he was first elected to Tonga’s parliament in 1987. In 2013, he became the first Pacific Islander to win the Defender of Democracy Award, presented by New York-based nonprofit Parliamentarians for Global Action.
“His political career has been marked by battles with the Tongan monarchy over democracy, transparency and corruption,” the nonprofit wrote, noting that he was imprisoned in 1996 for contempt of parliament before the Supreme Court ordered he be released. On another occasion, he was charged with sedition.
“He was an immensely significant figure,” said Graeme Smith, a research fellow at Australian National University. “As Prime Minister, he was very influential in the region and a really strong voice for Tonga. Regionally, and globally, he will be tremendously missed.”
Smith said it may be too early to tell if Pohiva has created a permanent legacy of strong democracy in Tonga, because there continues to be pushback from vested interests including the royal family and the nobility.
For now, lawmaker Semisi Sika is Tonga’s acting prime minister.
Before becoming a politician, Pohiva taught history and sociology at the University of the South Pacific. His wife Neomai Pohiva died last year. The couple had seven children.
Pohiva spoke at a 2006 pro-democracy rally in the capital Nuku’alofa shortly before rioters destroyed much of the downtown. After that, the country borrowed money from China to rebuild and now owes $108 million to China’s Export-Import bank, equivalent to about 25% of GDP, a level of indebtedness that worries many observers.
Pohiva was first elected prime minister in 2014 and won re-election three years later. His recent tenure was marked by bouts of ill health.
Fijian Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama wrote on Twitter that Pohiva “inspired the world with raw emotion” last month at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu. Bainimarama said Pohiva attended despite his poor health because he recognized the urgency of climate change: “We must honor his legacy by continuing this fight.”


Curfew call in Indian capital after 20 die in sectarian clashes

Updated 26 February 2020

Curfew call in Indian capital after 20 die in sectarian clashes

  • Clashes began on Monday between people supporting and opposing the citizenship law
  • Unrest is the worst sectarian violence seen in Delhi in decades

NEW DELHI: Riot police patrolled the streets of India’s capital on Wednesday and the city’s leader called for a curfew following battles between Hindus and Muslims that claimed at least 20 lives.
The two days of unrest — which has seen clashes between mobs armed with swords and guns — is the worst sectarian violence seen in Delhi in decades.
The clashes come amid worsening religious tensions following a citizenship law that critics say is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda.
Delhi’s chief minister, Arvind Kejriwal, called Wednesday for the army to be deployed and for a curfew to be imposed over flashpoint northeastern districts.
“Police, despite all its efforts, (are) unable to control the situation and instill confidence,” Kejriwal tweeted on Wednesday morning.
“Army (should) be called in and curfew imposed.”
The clashes began on Monday between people supporting and opposing the citizenship law, then descended into pitched battles between the mobs.
Twenty people died and nearly 200 others were wounded in the first two days of violence, the director of the hospital where people were taken, told AFP on Wednesday.
Sixty people had suffered gunshot wounds, according to the director, Sunil Kumar.
The area is home to mostly poorer economic migrants living in many shanty neighborhoods, and some fled on Wednesday ahead of more expected clashes.
“People are killing (each other). Bullets are being fired here,” a tailor in the Jaffrabad area told AFP, adding that he was returning home to his village in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
“There is no work... It is better to leave than to stick around here. Why would we want to die here?“
On Wednesday morning AFP saw people cleaning out the blackened and trashed interior of a mosque in the Ashok Nagar area burned out during the violence.
A video circulated on social media and verified by AFP showed men ripping off the muezzin’s loudspeaker on top of the mosque’s minaret and placing a Hindu religious flag and an Indian flag.
The new citizenship law has raised worries abroad that Modi wants to remold secular India into a Hindu nation while marginalizing the country’s 200 million Muslims, a claim he denies.
The law expedites the citizenship applications for persecuted minorities from India’s three Muslim-majority neighboring countries, but not if they are Muslim.
The flare-up in violence occurred as US President Donald Trump visited India and held talks with Modi in Delhi on Tuesday.
But Trump left as scheduled on Tuesday and his visit was not visibly interrupted by the violence.