King George Tupou V of the South Pacific nation of Tonga died at a hospital in Hong Kong at the age of 63 due to an unspecified illness, officials said on Monday.
Announcing the monarch's death, Tongan Prime Minister Lord Sialeataonga Tu'ivakano said in a brief radio address that the King's younger brother and heir to the throne, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, was at his bedside when he passed away.
Tu'ivakano said the royal family and the entire nation were in grief and there would be traditional Tongan funeral with a 100-day mourning. Details of the funeral would be announced after getting information from the royal family.
Although Tu'ivakano did not specify the cause of death, media reports indicated that the King had undergone a successful surgery in Los Angeles six months ago to have a kidney removed after a tumor was discovered. Tupou V, a bachelor, will now be succeeded by his younger brother Tupouto'a Lavaka.
Tupou V had become the monarch of the 170-island Polynesian archipelago of 106,000 in 2006 after the death of his father King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. But his coronation was delayed until August 2008 due to deadly riots demanding political reforms. At least eight people were killed in the violence.
Three days before his coronation ceremony, Tupou declared that he would cede most of his executive powers to a democratically elected Parliament and stated that "in future the sovereign shall act only on the advice" of the elected Prime Minister.
Until the people of Tonga elected the country's first democratically elected Parliament in the 2010 general elections initiated by Tupou, the country's 165-year-old monarchy had the right to choose majority of politicians, the entire Cabinet and the Prime Minister.
The November 2010 polls signaled a small but distinct shift from monarchy In Tonga. Although political reforms empowered the Parliament for running the day-to-day affairs of the country, the King remained the head of state and retained the right to veto laws, decree martial law and dissolve the Parliament. Also, some Parliament seats were reserved for nobility under the reforms.
In addition to bringing about democratic reforms in Tonga, Tupou V was also well known for his eccentricities, including his elaborate uniforms, globe-trotting lifestyle and fondness to being driven around the capital Nukualofa in a black London taxi.
by RTT Staff Writer
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