September 19, 2019 / 5:43 AM / 2 months ago

Tonga holds state funeral for climate change campaigner PM

FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister Samiuela Akilisi Pohiva of Tonga addresses a plenary meeting of the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015 at the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan, New York September 26, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Ornitz/File Photo

WELLINGTON (Reuters) - Tonga observed a day of national mourning on Thursday for the state funeral of Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva, known as a pro-democracy and climate change campaigner in the South Pacific.

Pohiva, 78, died last Thursday in a New Zealand hospital to which he had been admitted with pneumonia, after being diagnosed this year with a liver complication.

People lined the streets of the capital city, Nuku’alofa, to bid Pohiva farewell, while members of the Tongan royal family and regional dignitaries attended the funeral, New Zealand’s state broadcaster TVNZ said.

Pohiva’s political career was marked by constant battles against the monarchy of Tonga, where he was the longest-serving member of parliament since first being elected in 1987.

Outspoken about climate change, Pohiva urged world leaders to help island nations, some of which are battling rising sea levels. He also flagged concern about the mounting Chinese debt in the South Pacific.

Tonga is heavily indebted to China, with more than 60% of its external debt owed to Beijing through bilateral loans, its 2019-20 budget showed.

After Pohiva’s death, his deputy, Semisi Sika, has taken over as acting prime minister.

Reporting by Praveen Menon; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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