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Tonga king dreams of jumbos and tourists

In the island kingdom of Tonga, horses outnumber automobiles 10 to 1, and life hugs the slow lane on a subsistence diet of coconuts, bananas, and tourism.

But in the waterfront capital of Nuku'alofa, the white weatherboard palace of King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV harbors a dream of jumbo jets, luxury hotels, and industrial estates.

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Located east of the Fiji Islands in the South Pacific, Tonga is an independent state and member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Rhinoceros beetles and world commodity markets have played havoc with King Tupou's coconut plantations, and hurricanes frequently flatten the prospects for bananas. Not surprisingly, King Tupou has been waving a white flag for Western development in the hope that someone will come to the rescue.

he travels extensively, makes the most of his kingly access to other world leaders, and is not shy of the press.

He offered the Shah of Iran one of this 150-odd islands last year, several weeks ahead of the Shah's hopscotch exile to Mexcico, the United States, and Panama. The King made no secret of talks with the Soviet fisheries minister about possible exploitation of the kingdom's new 200-mile fisheries zone.

and, during a visit to the Middle East and Libya, he dropped word of a $3 millin deal with Libya's leader, Col. Muammar alQaddafi, to extend Tonga's main airstrip at Fua'amotu to accommodte jumbo jets.

On a recent visit to Germany, the King so charmed the public during a television interview that the Tonga Visitors Bureau received 500 letters of inquiry from would-be travelers and retirees.

Indeed, scarcely a week goes by without rumors in the Pacific of a new deal for Tonga, but the activities of a king wooing interest abroad are viewed by some here as contrasting with the realities of life on a small island cluster in the South Pacific.

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"You have to remember that the King is a very experienced politician," says Semesi TAumoepeau, acting director of the Visitors Bureau.

"He was trained as a lawyer, and he was foreign minister and prime minister before he came to the throne. He has been around a lot longer than other leaders in the region, or in Asia or most of Europe. He has known many of them personaly over a long period, and they welcome him to their countries.

"He didn't lose any friends in America when he invited the Shah, and after talks with the Russians, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States started paying more attention to the Pacific. . . . If there ever was a deal with Qaddafi, the King is the only one who knows details. We didn't hear whether it would be a loan or a grant, but I doubt they would have been very impressed by the offer to the Shah."

At the Palace office, the deputy private secretary to the King, Epeli Hau'ofa , says that any plan to enlarge the airport would need tens of millions of dollars in support infrastructure, and he doubts whether the tourist traffic could justify it. He notes the rise in fuel prices and a trend for air and shipping lines to pull off the Pacific route.

"Most of us have reached the stage where we say we'll believe the development when we see it," the secretary added.

Meanwhile, the annual income of the average Tongan hovers around $250, and the consuming ambition of almost every young man and woman here is to get a ticket to Australia, New Zealand, or the United States. An acute shortage of land under a feudal tenure system has deprived the young of almost any stake in the country, and population growth rates of Asian proportions (about 2.7 percent a year) have prompted support for a variety of approaches to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.

Migration from Tonga has become a natonal pastime. Demographers estimate that more than 25 percent of a population of 100,000 has visited New Zealand on shortterm work permits in recent years and that New Zealand's resident Tongan community is between 12,000 and 15,000 people.

Remittances to families here from communities as far afield as Wellington, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia; San Francisco; and Salt Lake City, tally more than $10 million a year, making the export of people three times more profitable than any other product of the realm.


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