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King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, 88; Ruled Tonga Since 1967

September 11, 2006|From the Associated Press

NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga -- King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, a towering figure in the Pacific Island nation of Tonga for nearly four decades, has died in a New Zealand hospital, media reports said today. He was 88.

Media reports in New Zealand and Tonga said the king died shortly before midnight Sunday, New Zealand time, and the nation's lord chamberlain, Fielakepa, reportedly confirmed the death on Radio New Zealand. The lord chamberlain is a government minister assigned to serve the monarch.

The king had been in failing health for some time.

The country is expected to declare an official months-long mourning period. Tonga, the South Pacific's last monarchy, is made up of about 160 islands with a land area of 289 square miles. It is situated about 1,250 miles north of New Zealand.

The king's brother, Prince Tu'ipelehake and his wife, Melenaite Veikune, were killed earlier this year in a car crash in Northern California. Crown Prince Tupouto'a, 57, is expected to be named the new king.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 17, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Tongan leader: The obituary of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV in Monday's California section said Tonga was the South Pacific's last monarchy. Samoa has a constitutional monarchy.

Tupou IV was born in July 1918. He received his early education in Tonga and was an outstanding athlete, competing in cricket, tennis, rugby and rowing. He was also the first Tongan to receive a university degree, graduating from the University of Sydney with a bachelor of arts degree.

He ascended the throne July 4, 1967, two years after his mother, Queen Salote, died. Tupou IV's 39-year reign made him one of world's longest-serving sovereigns, after Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and Samoa's King Malietoa Tanumafili II.

Tupou IV made international headlines in the 1970s, when he became the world's heaviest monarch, tipping the scales at the Tonga airport -- the only scales in the country that could hold him -- at 462 pounds. He eventually lost between 160 and 180 pounds.

In recent years, he became increasingly autocratic, and a pro-democracy movement strengthened. Thousands rallied last year in a call for constitutional reform.

Part of the king's fortune, reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars, came from the many monopolies that his family operates in Tonga. Meanwhile, a quarter of his subjects lived in poverty, according to the Asian Development Bank.

In 1947 he married Halaevalu Mata'aho, the daughter of a high chief, in an unprecedented double wedding with his younger brother, Prince Tu'ipelehake, who married Veikune, niece of the speaker of Tonga's Parliament.

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