King George Tupou V (Associated Press/Simon Baker)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Tonga's King George Tupou V, who championed a more democratic system of government in the Pacific island nation, died Sunday at a Hong Kong hospital, the Tongan prime minister said. He was 63.
Prime Minister Lord Siale'ataonga Tu'ivakano gave a brief address announcing that the king had died at 3 p.m. Sunday, Pesi Fonua, publisher of the Tongan news website Matangi Tonga, told The Associated Press. No cause of death was given.
The prime minister said the heir to the throne, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, was at the king's side when he died at the Hong Kong hospital.
The prime minister declared that the royal family and entire nation was in mourning, ending his address with a Tongan expression meaning "The sun has set," according to Fonua.
The king had a liver transplant last year and suffered other health problems, according to Tongan media reports.
Tupou had reigned over the island nation of 106,000 since Sept. 2006, after the death of his father, King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV.
Tupou, who studied at King's College in Auckland, New Zealand, and in Britain, is credited with championing a more open system of government, advocating technological improvements and introducing a more open economy in the kingdom.
He will be remembered by many for his throwback fashion choices — which included wearing, at times, a top hat and even a monocle.
New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key released a statement Monday saying that his thoughts were with the people of Tonga.
"I would like to acknowledge the very valuable contribution the king has made in steering Tonga towards democracy and hope this work will continue," Key said. "He believed that the monarchy was an instrument of change and can truly be seen as the architect of evolving democracy in Tonga. This will be his enduring legacy."
Fonua said the king gave up most of his executive powers when he came to the throne, accepting the need for a more democratic system. Fonua said the king also championed technologies such as mobile phones and the Internet, and made some enemies among conservative Tongans for his efforts to make the economy more market-driven.
Nick Perry, Associated Press
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