Chinese stores looted in Tonga

(China Daily)
Updated: 2006-11-18 09:46

WELLINGTON: Around 30 Chinese-owned stores in Nuku'alofa, the capital of Tonga, have been trashed in riots, but no Chinese people have been injured, the Chinese Embassy said on Friday.

"More than 25 per cent of Chinese stores were looted or burned yesterday (Thursday), causing big losses to the owners," said Hu Yeshun, Chinese ambassador to Tonga.

"We've received more than 150 people whose houses or stores were destroyed by the mobs," Hu said, adding that embassy staff were trying to contact all Chinese residents in Nuku'alofa to ensure their safety.

Witnesses said protesters set fire to buildings, overturned cars, looted a supermarket and threw stones at the prime minister's office in a dispute with the cabinet over reform issues in the South Pacific island kingdom of 102, 000 people.

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

More than eight bodies have been found up to late Friday, believed to be those of the looters who were trapped in the fire.

"Nuku'alofa is an inferno. The shoreline headquarters is gone, the Leiola Duty Free Store, the Pacifica Royale (hotel), and major Chinese outlets are up in smoke," said a local media report.

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

Running stores has been the traditional trade for Chinese since early immigrants came to the South Pacific island. More than 500 Chinese now live in Nuku'alofa, and many of them have made Tonga their home.

Hu said so far the Chinese Embassy had not received any reports of Chinese being seriously injured.

"We are making utmost efforts to avoid any further attacks on the Chinese residents here," said Hu, adding he has repeatedly urged Tongan security departments and the police to tighten measures and protect Chinese people and their property.

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

Hu said an emergency plan had been worked out by the Chinese Embassy for further riots, including withdrawing Chinese residents if the situation got out of control. "And we see it seems to be getting better now," said Hu.

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