Sixty troops and 10 police flew in from New Zealand to secure the Pacific island nation’s only international airport after foreign airlines refused to use it due to a lack of security, said Tongan Defense Services spokesman Maj. Veehala, who like many Tongans uses a single name.

Another 50 troops and 35 police from Australia, including forensic experts to identify the bodies of those who died in fires during the riots, arrived later Saturday.

The troops will secure infrastructure including the airport, power stations, broadcasting systems and key government buildings.

Two Chinese shops in Tonga were torched in attacks overnight, two days after rioting destroyed much of the capital, Nuku’alofa, but the city was “reasonably calm” on Saturday, Police Commander Sinilau Kolokihakaufisi told The Associated Press.

He said that no one was in the shops during the attacks Friday night, and that up to 200 ethnic Chinese – one-fifth the number living in Tonga – have sought refuge after about 30 Chinese-owned stores and businesses were torched during Thursday’s riot.

Government spokesman Lopeti Senituli said about 20 young men were arrested overnight for breaking and entering.

Angry youths on Thursday had overturned cars, attacked officials and looted shops and offices before setting them ablaze in the tiny, impoverished kingdom. Officials said about 80 percent of the capital was destroyed.

As in many South Pacific countries, ethnic Chinese traders have a large chunk of the economy in Tonga’s capital, and are sometimes resented by locals who perceive them as outsiders, although many Chinese families have been there for generations.

China’s Ambassador to Tonga, Hu Yeshun, said the embassy had “received over 150 people, whose houses or stores were destroyed by the mobs.”

Kolokihakaufisi said the violence had displaced about 200 Chinese, many of them Tongan citizens, who are staying at the Police College and a village outside the city.

“They’re guarded by people in the village,” he said.

The violence was triggered by anger that parliament might finish this year’s session without settling plans to give democratically elected lawmakers a parliamentary majority over royally appointed legislators.

The government had agreed Tuesday to a plan ensuring that 21 lawmakers in the 30-seat Parliament will be elected starting in 2008 – but it came too late to prevent the rioting.

Tonga, halfway between Australia and Tahiti, has about 108,000 people. Its economy depends on pumpkin and vanilla exports, fishing, foreign aid and remittances from Tongans abroad.

AP-ES-11-18-06 1445EST


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