updated 11/17/2006 4:59:34 PM ET 2006-11-17T21:59:34

Australia and New Zealand agreed Friday to send troops Tonga, where mobs demanding democratic reforms destroyed much of the capital in unprecedented rioting that left at least eight people dead.

Thursday's rampage by angry youths, who overturned cars, attacked government officials and looted shops and offices before setting them ablaze, was unprecedented in the tiny and impoverished kingdom. Officials said about 80 percent of the capital's business district was destroyed.

The trigger for the violence was anger that parliament might finish its session for the year without settling plans to give elected lawmakers a majority in parliament over royally appointed legislators.

Six bodies were found in the burned-out offices of a power company. They were believed to be looters or rioters because the company's staff was accounted for, said Tonga's Lord Chamberlain, Hon. Fielakepa, who acts as spokesman for the king, and like many Tongan nobles uses just one name.

Government officials later confirmed two more bodies were discovered Friday in a second burned building.

Business linked to king, PM targeted
The rioters had targeted several businesses formerly connected with King Saiosi Tupou V and Prime Minister Fred Sevele, but many other businesses were damaged as well. There was no further violence Friday.

Lopeti Senituli, a spokesman for Sevele, said the government had given its approval for 150 troops and police from Australia and New Zealand to fly to Tonga to help ensure security.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Australian counterpart John Howard announced the deployment plan at a joint news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, where they are attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.

The request for troops came "as a result of some serious rioting which has left 80 percent of the central business district of the capital destroyed," Howard said.

Senituli said foreign forces were "an acknowledgment our security apparatus is ... short of manpower."

Australia and New Zealand also supplied the bulk of a peacekeeping force sent to another Pacific island nation, the Solomon Islands, to quell unrest and rioting there in April.

Most of capital declared off-limits
Sevele on Friday declared most of Nuku'alofa off-limits, and the country's small army restricted movement around town, Senituli said.

"The priority is to secure peace so that people can feel secure in their own homes and neighborhoods," Senituli said. "Most of the fires have died down but the damage has been widespread and major."

Tonga's king said "every measure of the law will be followed to track down and prosecute the perpetrators and those who incited and agitated this mindless criminal destruction," said the statement issued by the Lord Chamberlain.

Tonga, halfway between Australia and Tahiti, has a population of about 108,000. Its economy depends on pumpkin and vanilla exports, fishing, foreign aid and remittances from Tongans abroad.

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