Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The central business district - three months on

It's my first visit to Tonga and it's hard to imagine that just over three months ago, pro-democracy riots destroyed most of the central business district of Nuku'alofa. As I wander around people are going about their business, cars are driving around the streets and buildings house government ministries, cafes and shops. One could easily suppose that it looks the same as it ever did. But I am not familiar with what was once there - an air conditioned cinema, a large hotel, buildings that housed businesses, the Chinese embassy, shops, restaurants, large supermarkets and bustling markets. 154 businesses were affected but today very little evidence remains of the destruction; destruction that is almost too hard to comprehend.

Within two months the destroyed buildings were cleared and all that remains are empty lots cordoned off with barriers and the occasional presence of the military and guards (mostly around the government buildings). The military still hold emergency powers but life is starting to get back to normal. The handcraft markets have returned although the vegetable markets are still empty. Produce stalls have started to pop up outside of town and some businesses have set up shops outside the damaged area.

It's hard to know exactly what happened on November 16. Some people say that it started as a pro-democracy movement that escalated into something else. And they say that it wasn't supported by all of Tonga and the villages have removed themselves from what happened.

Today it's business as usual and something that just happened (although the investigations are still going on). Crops are still growing, children are back at school, celebrations go on and people are getting on with their lives. The NZ Police are still here - but most of their work tends to focus on the community; building relationships and skills and creating customised education programmes for schools and participating in community events - quite a change from the state of siege mentality when they arrived for a last minute deployment in December. They will return home to New Zealand in April.



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