The New Zealand government has sent troops to Tonga to prop up the Monarchy, and help squash pro-democracy protests. Agitation against the current situation in Tonga has been growing, there was a huge public service strike last year, and the pro-democracy movement is getting bigger and more organised. The monarchy control the economy of Tonga as well as it's political life, the royal family own many of the companies that control essential industries.
The Tongan parliament planned to stop sitting for the year without debating proposals for reform, so they would have to wait until next year. There were huge protests against this and they were ignored. As people realised that they were being ignored pro-democracy supporters started destorying the property of the government and the royal family. The government has declared martial law, and Australia and New Zealand have sent troops to Tonga to support the current government.
I don't know enough about the situation right this second to make informed comment, but I wanted to make it clear that I support the pro-democracy movement in Tonga, and the riots doesn't change that at all.
The Sunday Star Times has a really good article:
Dr Sitiveni Halapua, co-author of an official report on political change in the kingdom, warned in January that the kingdom was slipping into violence. In Auckland yesterday he told the Sunday Star-Times "very serious problems lie ahead", and called for Prime Minister Fred Sevele to stand down.
A joint contingent of New Zealand and Australian troops flew into Tonga yesterday at Sevele's request. It includes 62 New Zealand Defence Force personnel plus police and other government staff.
Halapua said Tonga was proud of never having been colonised, and that Sevele, who is royally appointed, had made a serious mistake by inviting foreign forces in.
"That says a lot about him and his government. He knows very well that people don't have confidence in him any more. In other different governments, they would step down," he said.
"If Australia and New Zealand police and army are there to prop up the government, they are propping the government up against everybody else. It's not just the pro-democracy (protesters)."
Halapua said there was a belief among some some people in Nuku'alofa that the New Zealand and Australian forces were coming "to make people afraid and to support the government".
New Zealand indymedia is also doing really good coverage - I'd recommend their latest feature - which also links to some important back story.