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King Siaosi Tupou V

Ruler of Tonga who enabled move to a constitutional monarchy

His Majesty King Siaosi Tupou V of Tonga, who has died at the age of 63, was regarded as the descendant of the sky god Tangeroa, but gave up many powers to launch an era of democracy on the South Sea island chain over which his family had long ruled.

Known to English speakers as George Tupou V, the king inherited a febrile atmosphere on the death in 2006 of his father, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, who had steadfastly resisted constitutional reform for 41 years. With an elite appointed by royal decree securing large chunks of the country's wealth, resentment had grown among many of Tonga's disfranchised poor.

Within two months of Tupou IV's death, mobs set parts of the capital Nuku'alofa ablaze and looted cars and shops. Eight people died in rioting which was widely blamed on the slow pace of democratic reform. Such was the impact of the violence that the new king delayed his coronation ceremony, calling instead for a rebuilding of "mutual responsibility".

It was not until late July 2008 that the framework for the transfer of power to a democratically elected parliament had been established. Though the royal house still retained some ceremonial authority (such as the power to commute sentences) Tonga had in effect become a constitutional, rather than absolute, monarchy. Three days later, on August 1, Siaosi Tupou was finally crowned king at an elaborate five-day ceremony.

Earlier, in a traditional ceremony, his sovereignty over Tonga's 170 islands was recognised by 200 nobles.

He was born on May 4, 1948, the eldest son of Taufa'ahau Tupou IV and Queen Halaevalu Mata'aho. Respect for the king his father was drummed into him from an early age. "We were always encouraged not to be beastly children and not to misbehave in public," he said later. "Like others in my generation, our parents would whip us if we were naughty."

His early education was conducted in Auckland before he travelled to the Leys School in Cambridge. He later attended Sandhurst, which he said taught him not to take life too seriously; he retained an immense fondness for Britain throughout his life.

He was appointed Crown Prince in 1966, and took responsibility for Tonga's foreign affairs from the late 1970s. But as he rose to prominence his courtly manners and dress only seemed to underline the gulf between Tonga's elite and its people.

While most Tongans favoured relaxed, light clothing suitable to the warm weather, Crown Prince Tupouto'a, as he was then known, was rarely seen in anything but Savile Row suits. His only concession to the climate was a pith helmet.He was also known to affect a monocle.

Away from ceremonial engagements Tupou V, who was unmarried, was reported to enjoy sailing model boats in his swimming pool and playing computer games.

He had a sharp and inquiring mind and loved to travel. He also launched a brand of beer called Royal.

His younger brother, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, succeeds to the throne.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent