Tonga holds funeral of King George Tupou V

BBC's Duncan Kennedy: "One thousand pallbearers took turns to carry the king's coffin"

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The funeral of Tonga's king, George Tupou V, has taken place in Nuku'alofa, with thousands of mourners lining the streets from the palace to the royal tombs.

The body of the king arrived back in the islands on Monday from Hong Kong, where he died earlier this month.

After the state funeral, Tonga will be in mourning for three months.

The king's brother, Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka, will succeed his brother.

During three months of official mourning people are being encouraged to wear black, and celebrations and music are being discouraged.

'Enduring legacy'

At the scene

More than 1,000 pallbearers dressed in black with mat and straw skirts around their waists carried King George Tupou V on their shoulders.

They carried him from the royal palace, where he was lying in state all night, to the site of the Royal Tombs.

There was a 21-gun salute and the bell at the Free Wesleyan Centenary Church rang out.

Schoolchildren sat on the kerb, Tongans looked on wearing their traditional mourning dress, and all the homes and buildings they passed were decorated in purple and black material.

The gates to the burial ground were also draped in purple and black, and in gold material the words "God is With Us" were wound around the wrought iron.

As the state funeral began, the body of the king was transported about 300 metres to the royal tomb.

One thousand pallbearers took turns to carry his coffin in a procession led by a military guard of honour and members of the royal family.

Church bells rang out and a 21-gun salute was fired. Many buildings and trees across the country are bedecked with Tonga's mourning colours of black and purple.

Foreign dignitaries, mostly from New Zealand and Australia, are also attending the funeral.

The government originally announced the funeral would be on Wednesday but the new king asked for it to be moved forward.

King Tupou died in hospital in Hong Kong on 18 March, aged 63. His brother was at his bedside as he died.

The king had a reputation for being an eccentric, frequently wearing a monocle. He had a fondness for flamboyant military uniforms and for being driven around in a London taxi.

Agriculture Minister Lord Vaea told the BBC that the king - who introduced democracy to his country - had left an enduring legacy.

"He set a high standard in such a short period of time. And consequently everybody was looking forward for a long reign," he said.

Crown Prince Tupouto'a Lavaka will use the title King Tupou VI.

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