2006 Nukuʻalofa riots

The 2006 Nukuʻalofa riots, also known as the 2006 Tongan riots,[2] started on 16 November, in the Tongan capital of Nukuʻalofa. The Legislative Assembly of Tonga was due to adjourn for the year and despite promises of action, had done little to advance democracy in the government. A mixed crowd of democracy advocates took to the streets in protest. The riots saw a number of cases of robbery, looting, vehicle theft, arson, and various property damage.

2006 Nuku‘alofa riots
The start of the major fires due to the Nukuʻalofa riots
Date16 November 2006
21°8′S 175°12′W
Resulted inDeclaration of a state of emergency
Parties to the civil conflict

Supported by:[1]

  • Protesters

Targets of riots

Looters walking

Riots broke out around 3:30 pm TOT as rioters threw stones, broke windows, and looted. By about 6:00 pm, rioters started setting buildings on fire. The first targets of the rioters were government buildings. Then they attacked enterprises, including some that were leased to ANZ Bank and those owned by the Prime Minister Feleti Sevele.

A private shop selling mobile telephones and advertising for Tonfön (part of the Shoreline Group of Companies owned, at the time, by the royal family) was next. Rioters also attacked and burned the main office of the Shoreline Group of Companies, which was located 1 km (0.62 mi) away from the small central business district.

Several of the larger Chinese shops were targeted for looting and burning. Other shops, including one owned by ethnic Indians, were burned as well, but it is not clear if they were intentionally set on fire or caught fire from surrounding buildings.

At about 6:00 PM TOT rioters torched the Royal Pacific hotel (owned by the Shoreline Group of Companies). The hotel was located on one of the main roads into the city. There are many commercial buildings on the thoroughfare, and the fire spread to some of those buildings as well.

According to an article in Tonga Now,[3] normally law-abiding Tongans of both sexes and all ages were participating avidly in the looting. However, some photos[3] would seem to indicate that the car-tipping and arson were the work of young men. This conception would be reinforced after a destroyed Chinese shop was vandalized with graffiti.

At nightfall, the police and the Tonga Defence Services regained control of the central business district and were turning away anyone who tried to enter.


The day after, a journalist under the watchful eye of the army

Estimates of the damage varied. Some estimates said that 60 to 80% of the central business district was destroyed.[4]

17 November

It was announced that eight bodies had been found in charred ruins.[5] Since most of the employees of the affected businesses managed to reach safety, news reports speculated that the dead were likely looters. It is not clear if the deceased have been identified or if identified, when their names will be released.

The Tongan government declared a state of emergency. Only firefighters, police, utility workers, etc. were allowed inside a perimeter defined by Vuna road, ʻAlipate road, Mateialona road, and Tupoulahi road. Residents of that area could enter only after being searched. For the next month, gatherings of more than five persons were illegal in that area. Emergency laws gave security forces the right to stop and search people without a warrant.[6]

The Tongan government promised reform. Popular elections were held in 2008, in which a majority of the Legislative Assembly were elected by popular vote.[7]

The Chinese embassy chartered an airplane to evacuate Chinese nationals.[8]

18 November

110 soldiers and 44 police officers from Australia and New Zealand arrived to help the local police to establish order. The New Zealand army was to be in charge of airport security and the police were to protect the High Commission. The Australian contingent from the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment were to assist and relieve exhausted Tongan police.[9]

19 November

A leader of the Tongan pro-democracy movement, MP 'Akilisi Pohiva, has criticised the intervention of Australian and New Zealand peacekeepers following the riots.[10]

20 November

Some businesses had temporarily relocated to the suburbs. Some looted items were returned. Police were guarding the telecommunications center and investigating mobile call logs. According to the Matangi Tonga newspaper, twenty-six arrests had been made and the number of deaths had been revised down to six.[11]

22 November

Nukuʻalofa was by now largely peaceful. The town center was still cordoned off and heavily patrolled, but local shop owners and the like could easily get permission to enter the restricted area. Some Chinese shops which escaped damage were now open again. Major shops and banks, however, were still operating from temporary locations in the suburbs.

1 December

Peace was believed to be restored and foreign forces began leaving. The forbidden area in town was reduced. Police had made 571 arrests.[12]


The first business to rebuild and reopen was the Fung Shin supermarket, which opened in new premises on 19 December 2007.[13]


In November 2008, rebuilding began with an anticipated three years of work for the infrastructure to be complete. Roads, footpaths, drainage and more were planned by Minister Paul Karalus. Funding was provided by low-interest Chinese government loans amounting to $US55 million.[14]


In July 2018, Tonga was expected to begin the repayments of loans from China for reconstruction that ended up being US$100 million+ to the Chinese government. The commitment to begin this process was made by 'Akilisi Pohiva.[15]

Maintaining the state of emergency

In late January 2008, the Tongan authorities renewed a Proclamation of Public Order for the sixteenth month running, a lingering aftermath of the riots. The statement reads: "It is hereby proclaimed that there continues to exist a state of danger" in central Nukuʻalofa. According to the Proclamation, the area will remain "controlled and maintained by the Tonga Police Force and Tonga Defence Services for the sole purpose of maintaining public order for all people of the country".[16] Tongan information minister Afualo Matoto announced that the state of emergency would probably be maintained for another three months (i.e., until the end of April). This was criticised by Tongan pro-democracy advocate Akilisi Pohiva: "I don’t see any reason for government to continue to hold on to the emergency power."[17]

The state of emergency was lifted in August 2008. Member of Parliament 'Akilisi Pohiva noted that the government had probably chosen to wait until after the coronation of King George Tupou V to put an end to it.[18] It was, however, re-imposed in September, despite the objections of pro-democracy members of Parliament.[19][20]

Operation Kaliloa

A joint investigation into the riots by the Tonga police, Australian Federal Police and New Zealand Police, codenamed Operation Kaliloa, began. 678 people were arrested, some under controversial circumstances,[21] with former Police Minister Clive Edwards also being charged after claiming that soldiers had engaged in indiscriminate beatings.[22] Democratic leader ʻAkilisi Pōhiva was arrested on charges of sedition, along with Edwards and a number of other pro-democracy MPs and activists.[23][24][25][26][27] In total there were 320 prosecutions related to the riots.[21] No-one was convicted of any political charge. Most non-sedition charges against MPs were withdrawn in September 2007,[28] and all were ultimately acquitted in March 2009.[29][30] Democracy campaigner Sione Halafuka Vea was acquitted in July 2007.[31][32] Charges against businesswoman 'Ofa Simiki, who the government had claimed masterminded the riots, were withdrawn in April 2008.[33] MP ʻIsileli Pulu was acquitted on charges of abetting murder and arson in July 2008.[34] Sedition charges against broadcaster Sione Sangster Saulala were also dismissed that month.[35] Charges against Edwards were dismissed in May 2010.[36]

The state of emergency declared on 17 November 2006 was extended several times. It was finally ended in January 2011 once the new Prime Minister took office following the 2010 election.[37]


  1. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2006-11-19/tongan-pro-democracy-movement-slams-intervention/1313148
  2. "Tongan riots, 2006". libcom.org. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  3. "Riots in Tonga 2006". Planet Tonga. Archived from the original on 14 April 2012. Retrieved 20 November 2006.
  4. Fonua, Mary; Linny Folau and Pesi Fonua (16 November 2006). "Rioting crowd leaves trail of wreckage in Nukuʻalofa". Matangi Tonga. Archived from the original on 4 February 2007. Retrieved 20 November 2006.
  5. "Riot death toll in Tonga reaches eight". Radio New Zealand. 17 November 2006. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  6. "Death toll in Tonga reaches eight.New Zealand and Australia send security reinforcements". RNZ. 18 November 2006. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  7. "Six died in Tonga rioting - report". New Zealand Herald. 17 November 2006. Retrieved 28 December 2021.
  8. "Flight chartered to evacuate Chinese in Tonga". ABC News and Current Affairs. 22 November 2006. Archived from the original on 31 March 2010. Retrieved 26 November 2006.
  9. "NZ, Aust troops land in Tonga". Television New Zealand. Australian Associated Press. 18 November 2006. Retrieved 18 November 2006.
  10. "Tongan pro-democracy movement slams intervention". ABC News and Current Affairs. 19 November 2006. Archived from the original on 11 November 2007. Retrieved 1 December 2006.
  11. "Police confirm six dead in Tonga fires". Matangi Tonga. 22 November 2006. Archived from the original on 27 May 2011. Retrieved 22 November 2006.
  12. Radio Tonga news and "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 May 2011. Retrieved 5 December 2006.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. "Fung Shin opens for Christmas". Matangi Tonga. 20 December 2007. Archived from the original on 24 December 2007. Retrieved 22 December 2007.
  14. "Rebuilding begins in Nuku'alofa after 2006 riot". Radio New Zealand. 19 November 2008. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  15. "Tonga to start repaying loan for Nuku'alofa reconstruction". Radio New Zealand. 13 July 2018. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  16. "PM renews public order proclamation for 16th month" Archived 27 May 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Matangi Tonga, 30 January 2008
  17. "Tongan pro-democracy advocate questions state of emergency continuation". Radio New Zealand. 28 January 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  18. "Leading Tongan MP welcomes end of state of emergency". Radio New Zealand. 29 August 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  19. "Tongan PM re-imposes emergency regulations", ABC Radio Australia, 10 September 2008
  20. "Anger in Tonga after emergency police powers put back in place". Radio New Zealand. 10 September 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  21. Steven Ratuva (2019). "Thy kingdom burn: Hegemony, resistance and securitisation in Tonga". Contested Terrain: Reconceptualising Security in the Pacific. ANU Press. p. 186. ISBN 9781760463199. JSTOR j.ctvq4c0m7.8. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  22. "Tonga MP says hundreds brutally beaten by soldiers". Radio New Zealand. 28 November 2006. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  23. "Tongan pro-democracy leader released on bail, facing charges of sedition". RNZ. 19 January 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  24. "Tonga's former police minister charged with two counts of sedition". Radio New Zealand. 2 February 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  25. "Tonga police confirm third MP arrested in connection with Nuku'alofa riot". RNZ. 30 January 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  26. "TONGA RUGBY CHAIRMAN CHARGED IN NOVEMBER RIOTS". Pacific Islands Report. 1 March 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  27. "FIFTH TONGAN LAWMAKER CHARGED IN RIOT PROBE". Pacific Islands Report. 7 March 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  28. "Crown withdraws six charges against five People's Representatives in Tonga". RNZ. 11 September 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  29. "Five accused found not guilty of sedition in Tonga". RNZ. 30 March 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  30. "Five acquitted on charges of seditious conspiracy in Tonga". RNZ. 14 September 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  31. "Tongan democracy campaigner 'not guilty'". The Sydney Morning Herald. 27 July 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  32. "TONGAN CHARGED WITH SEDITION FOUND NOT GUILTY". Pacific Islands Report. 27 July 2007. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  33. "TONGA WITHDRAWS SEDITION CHARGE AGAINST WOMAN". Pacific Islands Report. 2 May 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  34. "Tonga's number two People's Rep cleared on riot-related charges". RNZ. 14 July 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  35. "Tonga's judiciary described as independent". RNZ. 16 July 2008. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  36. "Tonga: Power to the People". Sunday Star Times. 14 November 2010. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
  37. U.S. Department of State (31 October 2011). "Background Notes, Tonga". Retrieved 10 February 2013.

See also

  • 2021 Solomon Islands unrest
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