Tide of Loyalty to Queen Submerges Atoll Republicans
By Robert Keith-Reid in Suva (Electronic Telegraph reporter)
10 February 1997
While some former British possessions seem eager to sever links with the Crown, Tuvalu, a chain of atolls in the South Pacific, is determined to preserve its own. Eighteen months of political tumult, which has disturbed the normally placid lives of the islanders, is due to come to an end later this month with the restoration of Tuvalu's original flag, which incorporated the Union flag.
The move, by Bikenibeu Paeniu, the prime minister, reverses the decision of his predecessor, Kamuta Lautasi, whose introduction of a new flag with a complex design of stars and stripes in red, blue, white and yellow, and minus the Union flag, led to uproar among the atolls' 9,000 people. Mr Lautasi saw the move as a prelude to Tuvalu becoming a republic, but protests grew. In one notable incident, the people of Niutao, one of Tuvalu's nine atolls, chopped down the flagpole as soon as the new banner was raised. They also announced that, to publicise their protest, their celebrated dancers would boycott the South Pacific arts festival in Western Samoa. Sensing that only a minority of Tuvaluans held republican sentiments, Mr. Paeniu launched a successful campaign to oust Mr. Lautasi. Mr Paeniu played on the affection which the people hold for the monarchy. In a carefully-orchestrated no-confidence attack, he promised that one of his first acts as prime minister would be to restore the old flag.
Enele Sopoaga, the Tuvaluan ambassador in Fiji, said that restoring the old flag confirmed "respect for the Sovereign of Tuvalu and is in deference to the wishes of older people, who value the relationship with the United Kingdom. We just feel that the original flag is the choice of our people and with respect to the founders of our nation we would rather retain the flag with which the people were consulted. With the feedback we are confident that the wish of the majority is to bring back the Union Jack."
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