WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Hundreds of mourners packed a service yesterday and children stood vigil on downtown streets as Tonga took a national holiday to bid farewell to Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva at a state funeral.
During a political career that began more than three decades ago, Pohiva helped bring greater democracy to the small Pacific island nation. He died last week in Auckland after being medically evacuated to New Zealand.
Former lawmaker Teisina Fuko, who attended the funeral, said Pohiva was very close to the Tongan people.
“People remembered him as a spearhead for change, for creating a more democratic government,” he said.
Children stood along the roads in the capital Nuku’alofa as Pohiva’s family and members of the Tongan royal family followed a hearse into the Centenary Church grounds. One mourner held a sign that described Pohiva as ‘My Hero’.
Delegations from Australia and New Zealand attended the service.
Pohiva was first elected to Tonga’s Parliament in 1987. He became prime minister in 2014 and won re-election three years later. His recent tenure was marked by bouts of ill health and political unrest.