30 Chinese stores looted in Tonga capital riots

Updated: 2006-11-17 09:38

Around 30 Chinese-owned stores in Nuku'alofa, Tonga capital, were trashed over the last some 20 hours, and the Chinese Embassy is trying to protect the Chinese living there.

"More than 25 percent of Chinese stores were looted or burned yesterday, causing big losses to the owners," said Hu Yeshun, Chinese Ambassador to Tonga, who's got no chance of sleep all night arranging protection and aid measures.

"We've received over 150 people, whose houses or stores were destroyed by the mobs," Mr. Hu told Xinhua, adding the Embassy staff are trying to contact with all Chinese residents to make sure they are alright.

Witnesses said the protestors Thursday set fire to buildings, overturned cars, looted a supermarket, and threw stones at the Prime Minister's office, in an dispute with the Cabinet over reform issues in the South Pacific island monarchy nation of 10, 000 people.

The rioting started after the government deferred its final sitting day for the year, as thousands of protestors demanded that a vote on the reforms take place before the house rose.

Reporter from the local news agency, Tonga Now, described looting to Chinese stores earlier.

"Nuku'alofa is at an inferno. Shoreline headquarters is gone, the Leiola Duty Free Store, Pacifica Royale (hotel), and major Chinese outlets are up in smoke..."

"Chinese stores were smashed and empty, save for mobs to carry booty of everything from toilet paper to boxes of chicken," said Tonga Now reporter.

Huang Yuguo, official from trade department, Chinese Embassy to Tonga, drove around the city Friday morning, seeing some Chinese stores burned down and all the others shut doors tightly.

"It's disastrous for many Chinese living here for generations," said Mr. Huang.

Running stores has been traditional trade for Chinese since the earlier immigrants came to the South Pacific island. The hard- working owners usually preferred to expand number and space of their stores with money they have saved. And now the Chinese-owned account for a major proportion of stores in Nuku'alofa, which were subject to looting in the riots.

Over 500 Chinese live in Nuku'alofa, many of them have taken Tonga for their only homes. Mr. Hu said so far the Chinese Embassy has not received any report of Chinese being seriously hurt.

"We are making utmost efforts to avoid any further looting to the Chinese residents here," said Mr. Hu, adding he has repeatedly urged Tongan security departments and the Police to tighten measures and protect Chinese people who have contributed a lot to the island country and their property.

He said Tongan army and the Police Friday enforced martial law in some areas and beefed up traffic checks in the city to rein in the situation.

Mr. Hu said emergency plan was worked out by the Chinese Embassy for further riots, including withdrawing the Chinese if unfortunately the situation is out of control.

"And we see it seems to be getting better now," said Mr. Hu.

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