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

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NUKU’ALOFA, Tonga – Australia and New Zealand agreed today to send troops Tonga, where mobs demanding democratic reforms destroyed much of the capital in unprecedented rioting that left at least six people dead.

Youths overturned cars, attacked government officials and looted and torched offices in Thursday’s rampage. The rioters were angry that parliament might finish its session for the year without settling plans to introduce reforms giving democratically elected lawmakers a majority 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 all members of the company’s staff had been 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.

New Zealand media reported that two more bodies were found in the burned-out supermarket owned by Prime Minister Fred Sevele, but the reports could not immediately be confirmed. The rioters targeted several businesses formerly connected with King Saiosi Tupou V and Sevele, but many other businesses were also damaged.

The prime ministers of Australia and New Zealand announced the deployment plan at a joint news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam, where they were attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. The two countries also supplied the bulk of a peacekeeping force sent to quell unrest in the Solomon Islands in April.

Australia will send 50 troops and 35 police officers, including forensic experts expected to help identify those killed, said Australian Prime Minister John Howard. New Zealand, which will command the contingent, will send police and 60 troops to secure Tonga’s airport after commercial aircraft refused to fly in or out of the country because of the security risk.

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.

There was no violence Friday, and fire crews extinguished blazes that had been burning overnight. A large part of the downtown district was destroyed as fires moved from building to building, officials said.

The king vowed in a statement “to track down and prosecute the perpetrators and those who incited and agitated this mindless criminal destruction.”

He extended his sympathy to the families of the dead and “the many business people who have been affected by these criminal activities.”

The government declared part of the downtown area off-limits and set up cordons.

Lopeti Senituli, a spokesman for the prime minister, said the government approved the arrival of 150 troops and police from Australia and New Zealand.

Tonga’s small army was patrolling the streets but foreign troops were needed because “our security apparatus is … short of manpower,” he said.

Pro-democracy lawmaker ‘Akalisi Pohiva blamed the riot on the government’s delay of promised political reforms. “They shouldn’t have waited until the country fell into this chaotic situation,” he told New Zealand’s National Radio.

He said the prime minister waited until the end of the legislative session to sign a measure authorizing elections that will give democratically elected representatives a majority in parliament.

Earlier Thursday, the government had proposed referring the reform proposals to a subcommittee for consideration next year.

The new elections will increase the number of democratically elected representatives in the 32-seat parliament from nine to 21, Pohiva said. The rest are appointed by the King.

Last month, a government committee recommended all lawmakers in Tonga be elected.

The recommendation was one of the most significant steps toward reform of Tonga’s political system since the September death of King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, who was in power for more than 40 years.

Tonga, located half way 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.