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State funeral for Tonga king on March 28: official

20 march 2012, 13:44
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Catholic women offer condolences to Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho (L), the mother of the late King George Tupou V. ©AFP
Catholic women offer condolences to Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho (L), the mother of the late King George Tupou V. ©AFP
A state funeral for Tonga's late King George Tupou V will be held in the South Pacific island nation's capital Nuku'alofa on March 28, AFP reports citing officials.

The king's body would be flown to Tonga from Hong Kong, where he died in hospital on Sunday aged 63, on a Chinese charter aircraft, then lie in state in the royal palace for two days before his burial, a government spokesman said.

He said Tonga had declared an official period of mourning until June 19 for the dead monarch, remembered as an eccentric who brought democracy to his impoverished nation.

Over the period, Tongans will be encouraged to wear black and refrain from loud entertainment and celebrations.

The funeral is expected to be a lavish affair, with the government spokesman saying the late king's body would be carried from the palace to the royal tombs on an ornate platform carried by 150 people.

He said a number of foreign dignitaries were expected to attend but details could not yet be released.

The spokesman confirmed that the king's successor, his brother Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, who was at the monarch's bedside when he died in Hong Kong, will be known as King Tupou VI.

He said details of the new king's coronation were yet to be finalised.

Prime Minister Lord Tu'ivakano on Monday described the late king's death as a "black stormcloud" over Tonga.

He was known for his love of eleborate military uniforms and being driven around Nuku'alofa in a black London taxi but also won praise for his democratic reforms, while culminated in elections in November 2010.

The Chinese-language Apple Daily, quoting unnamed sources, reported that the king's body remained in the morgue at Hong Kong's Queen Mary Hospital Monday night and his brother had received his death certificate.

The cause of the monarch's death has not been revealed but he had a kidney removed in Los Angeles last year after a cancerous tumour was discovered.

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