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Samoa to go back to the future, shifting date line

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    In this undated image provided by the Samoa Tourist Authority a couple relax on a beach in the South Pacific island nation of Samoa. Samoa announced plans Monday, May 9, 2011, to jump forward in time by one day by switching to the west side of the international dateline - 119 years after it moved the other way in a bid to boost its trade and economy. (AP Photo/Samoa Tourist Authority, D Kirkland) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

APIA, Samoa >> Samoa plans to leap 24 hours into the future, erasing a day and putting a new kink in the Pacific’s jagged international date line so that it can be on the same weekday as Australia, New Zealand and eastern Asia.

It’ll be Back to the Future for the island nation, offsetting a decision it made 119 years ago to stay behind a day and align itself with U.S. traders based in California.

That has meant that when it’s dawn Sunday in Samoa, it’s already dawn Monday in adjacent Tonga and shortly before dawn Monday in nearby New Zealand, Australia and increasingly prominent eastern Asia trade partners such as China.

Samoa has found its interests lying more with the Asia-Pacific region and now wants to switch back to the west side of the line, which separates one calendar day from the next and runs roughly north-to-south through the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“In doing business with New Zealand and Australia we’re losing out on two working days a week,” Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi said in a statement. “While it’s Friday here, it’s Saturday in New Zealand and when we’re at church on Sunday, they’re already conducting business in Sydney and Brisbane.”

Samoa’s change will have a cost: The Polynesian nation has long marketed itself as the last place on Earth to see each day’s sunset.

“It will be really confusing for us. I just don’t see the point, and we don’t know the benefits yet,” multimedia company official Laufa Lesa, 30, told The Associated Press in an interview from the Samoan capital Apia.

“The government says it’s good for the economy, but it’s totally fine the way it is now,” Lesa said.

The prime minister already has a new tourism angle: You can easily celebrate the same day twice, because the next-door U.S. territory of American Samoa will stay on the California side of the date line and remain one day behind.

“You can have two birthdays, two weddings and two wedding anniversaries on the same date — on separate days — in less than an hour’s flight across (the ocean), without leaving the Samoan chain,” Tuilaepa said.

Tuilaepa has proposed leaping forward by scratching this year’s Dec. 31 from the calendar and holding New Year’s celebrations one night early, though the date hasn’t been confirmed.

The original shift to the east side of the line was conducted in 1892 when Samoa celebrated July 4 twice, giving a nod to Independence Day in the U.S.

The date line drawn by mapmakers is not mandated by any international body. By tradition, it runs roughly through the 180-degree line of longitude, but it zigzags to accommodate choices of Pacific nations on how to align their calendars.

Nearly as many Samoans now live in Australia and New Zealand as the 180,000 living in the islands, which are located about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii and rely on fruit and vegetable exports as well as tourism.

In 2009, Tuilaepa enacted a law that switched cars to driving on the left side of the road instead of the right, also to bring Samoa in line with Australia and New Zealand. He said at the time the change made it easier for Samoans in Australia and New Zealand to send used cars home to their relatives. Opponents predicted major traffic problems, but they never happened.

“Today we do a lot more business with New Zealand and Australia, China and Pacific Rim countries such as Singapore,” the prime minister said, adding that his latest idea will make commerce with the region “far, far easier.” 


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