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Tonga

Facts & Figures

Sovereign: Tupou VI (2012)

Prime Minister: Tu'ivakano (2010)

Land area: 277 sq mi (717 sq km); total area: 289 sq mi (748 sq km)

Population (2012 est.): 106,146 (growth rate: 0.192%); birth rate: 24.7/1000; infant mortality rate: 13.21/1000; life expectancy: 75.38; density per sq mi: 360

Capital and largest city (2010 est.): Nuku'alofa, 24,500

Monetary unit: Pa'anga

More Facts & Figures

Flag of Tonga

Geography

Situated east of the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific, Tonga (also called the Friendly Islands) consists of some 150 islands, of which 36 are inhabited. Most of the islands contain active volcanic craters; others are coral atolls.

Government

Hereditary constitutional monarchy.

History

Polynesians have lived on Tonga for at least 3,000 years. The Dutch were the first to explore the islands, landing on Tafahi in 1616. British explorer James Cook landed on islands in 1773 and 1777 and dubbed them the Friendly Islands. The current royal dynasty of Tonga was founded in 1831 by Taufa'ahau Tupou, who took the name George I. He consolidated the kingdom by conquest and in 1875 granted a constitution. In 1900, his great-grandson, George II, signed a treaty of friendship with Britain, and the country became a British protected state. The treaty was revised in 1959. Tonga became independent on June 4, 1970.

The government is largely controlled by the king, his nominees, and a small group of hereditary nobles. In the 1990s a movement began aimed at curtailing the powers of the monarchy, and the Tongan Pro-Democracy Movement (TPDM) has continued to gain in popular support. In 1999, Tonga gained UN membership.

The king's official court jester, American Jesse Bogdonoff, a former salesman of magnets to relieve back pain, was sued by the government in 2002 for squandering $26 million of Tonga's money (40% of its annual revenue) in unsound investment schemes. In 2004, he agreed to pay a $1 million settlement.

The king grew increasingly authoritarian and has curtailed press freedom. In 2005, 3,000 civil servants went on strike, demanding better pay. Throughout 2005, discontent with economic and social inequities intensified throughout the kingdom. As a result, Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata resigned as prime minister in Feb. 2006. The following month pro-democracy leader Feleti Sevele became the first elected commoner to serve as the country's prime minister. In Aug. 2006, the king died and was replaced by his son, George Tupou V.

In a 14–12 vote, Tu'ivakano was elected prime minister over 'Akilisi Pohiva and was sworn in on Dec. 22, 2010.

On March 18, 2012, King George Tupou V died. After his death, his younger brother, ʻAhoʻeitu ʻUnuakiʻotonga Tukuʻaho Tupou VI, became King of Tonga as Tupou VI.

See also Encyclopedia: Tonga .
U.S. State Dept. Country Notes: Tonga


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