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Tongan prime minister dies in New Zealand hospital

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Tongan Prime Minister 'Akilisi Pohiva died in a New Zealand hospital Thursday, according to local reports.

Pohiva was admitted to Vaiola Hospital in Tonga's capital Nuku'alofa two weeks ago and was treated for pneumonia, a government statement said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, doctors decided that the 78-year-old had to be medically evacuated to a hospital in Auckland. Earlier this year Pohiva was treated for a liver condition in the New Zealand city.

A spokesperson for Auckland Hospital declined to comment.

According to Tongan English-language news website Matangi, the Pacific island nation's parliament was deferred indefinitely Thursday after the news of Pohiva's death was reported by Minister of Police Mateni Tapueluelu, the prime minister's son-in-law.

"RIP & my sincerest condolences to Rt Hon 'Akilisi Pohiva's family as well as to the Kingdom of Tonga. Such a tremendous loss for all of us Tongans," New Zealand Minister for Ethnic Communities Jenny Salesa wrote on Twitter.

Before entering politics, Pohiva taught history and sociology at the Tongan Campus of the University of the South Pacific.

For many years he challenged the Tongan monarchy and called for democracy to be installed in the kingdom. Pohiva was the longest-serving member of the Tongan Parliament, having been first elected in 1987.

Pohiva in 2014 became the first commoner to be elected prime minister by parliament, rather than appointed by the king. He was reelected in 2017.

Tonga is a small Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 islands in the South Pacific. It has a population of more than 100,000 people.

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