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Death Of Tuvalu Prime Minister Ionatana Ionatana

9 December 2000

Prime Minister Helen Clark said today that she was shocked and saddened to hear of the sudden death on Friday evening of the Tuvalu Prime Minister, Ionatana Ionatana.

"I express my sincere condolences to Mrs Ionatana, to the Ionatana family, and to all of the people of Tuvalu at this time of sadness at the loss of one of Tuvalu's most able sons.

"Prime Minister Ionatana had a long career in both the public service and in politics going back to the days before the separation of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony into the two states of Tuvalu and Kiribati in 1978. He served as Chief of Police, as Secretary to the Government, and in a variety of ministerial portfolios before becoming Prime Minister in April 1999."

Helen Clark said she had seen Mr Ionatana at the Pacific Islands Forum in Kiribati only a few weeks ago.

"He was also one of the first Pacific leaders I met after becoming Prime Minister, when he came to New Zealand in February this year. He was keen to talk about the possibility of settling Tuvaluans in New Zealand. He saw this as one way of easing the strains of population pressure on the limited land resources of Tuvalu. He also saw it as a precaution against the day when rising sea levels might make the low lying atolls of Tuvalu no longer habitable. I was impressed by his vision and his concern for his people.

"In September this year, I also met Mr Ionatana at the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York, where he took great pride in seeing his country admitted to UN membership for the first time."

Helen Clark also expressed her condolences to the Tuvalu community in New Zealand. "Tuvalu has lost a strong leader and a man with the best interests of all his people at heart. I join with the Tuvalu community here in New Zealand, and also those at home in Tuvalu, as they mourn the passing of their Prime Minister."

The funeral for Prime Minister Ionatana will be held in Funafuti, the capital of Tuvalu, on Tuesday. The New Zealand High Commissioner to Tuvalu, Tia Barrett, will travel to Funafuti to represent the New Zealand Government at the funeral. Mr Barrett will also attend a memorial service for Mr Ionatana in Suva, Fiji, on Sunday morning.


Ends

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