Tonga's Prince takes swipe at racism at home and abroad

NUKU'ALOFA - The racially motivated seizure of Fiji's elected Government is merely the latest manifestation of a deeply ingrained racism prevalent throughout the South Pacific says Tonga's Crown Prince Tupouto'a.

"The approach to life in the Pacific Islands sails closely to what we refer to as ethnicity, which is the way anthropologists and paternalistic aid donors forgive our basic racism," the Prince said in a magazine interview.

A group of gunmen led by failed businessman George Speight has held Fiji's ethnic-Indian Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudhry and much of his Government hostage since May 19.

Speight said he was acting on behalf of indigenous Fijians. One of his demands was the denial of voting rights to ethnic Indians, who make up 44 per cent of Fiji's population.

Ethnic animosity also led to the overthrow of the Solomon Islands Government earlier this month.

"In such a climate of trendy racism we should not at all be surprised that common thugs such as Speight and his fellow traitors are able to justify treason with blatant racism," Tupouto'a said in this week's Matangi Tonga magazine.

"As long as racism is practised against white men, the native peoples of the South Pacific are always said to be finding their identities or asserting their traditional values."

The 52-year-old Prince, a former Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs, said he was speaking personally rather than as the King's eldest son and heir.

He did not spare Tonga from his criticism.

"Many countries have racially based land laws and, in Tonga's case, actually enshrined for so long that they have been hallowed by time and have undeservedly assumed the quality of religious and cultural truth," he said.

In Tonga, land can be held only by Tongan men and is passed down through families.

"Another example ... was the racially motivated and cowardly violence which young jobless and, dare I say it, hopeless Tongans, visited on our Chinese-owned shops last year; an act of such barbarity that it shamed and disgusted me and every other Tongan of my generation," Tupouto'a said.

The Tonga Chinese Association complained last year of around 40 cases of harassment of Chinese businessmen, including some assaults, during a political row over the alleged sale of Tongan passports to Chinese people.

The Prince also criticised Australia and New Zealand trade unions for refusing to handle cargo to and from Fiji, a tactic he said failed in the last Fijian coup in 1987.

"I fail to see how immediately impoverishing the Fijian people could, at a stroke, restore the legally elected Government and shame Speight into releasing the hostages."

Tonga generates all its electricity from diesel imported by British Petroleum from Fiji's capital, Suva, noted the Prince, who heads the power generation company Shoreline Power.

- REUTERS

George Speight talks to IRN's Barry Soper (10 min).

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