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Tonga prepares for state funeral

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NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga >> Tonga will hold a state funeral for its king on March 28.

King George Tupou V died Sunday in Hong Kong at age 63. The cause has not been released.

Government spokesman Paula Mau said his body will be flown home from Hong Kong Sunday night and arrive in the small Pacific island nation on Monday. The body will lie in state for two days at the royal palace in the capital, Nuku’alofa, before being transported about 1,000 feet to the royal tomb.

Mau said he expects thousands from Tonga and many foreign dignitaries to attend the funeral. The country has begun three months of official mourning. Wearing black is encouraged and celebrations and music are discouraged.

The new king, Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka, will go by the title KingTupo VI.

Tupo V reigned over the island nation of 106,000 since his father, King Taufa’ahau Tupo IV, died in 2006.

He gave up most of his powers to bring a more democratic government to his Pacific island nation. 

Pesi Fonua, publisher of the Tongan news website Matangi Tonga, said the king also advocated for technologies such as cellphones and the Internet, and made some enemies among conservative Tongans for his efforts to make the economy more market-driven and open to foreign competition and investment.

President Obama sent his condolences to Tonga on Monday saying, “the United States has lost a friend and the people of Tonga have lost a visionary leader.”

In a statement issued by the White House, Obama said noted the king’s efforts to bring peaceful democracy to Tonga.

“As I said when I met with the King at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduation last spring, Tonga is one of the United States’ closest partners among the Pacific Island states and we are grateful for its role in Afghanistan, where Tonga makes an active contribution to the international coalition.  On behalf of all Americans, I extend my deepest condolences to the Queen Mother Halaevalu Mata’aho, the Royal Family, and the people of Tonga on the passing of King George Tupou V, " Obama said.

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