Tiny Tuvalu imposes emergency after public protest

The tiny South Pacific nation of Tuvalu imposed emergency rule after protesters marching in the capital demanded the finance minister resign, a government official said Friday.

The emergency was declared Thursday to prevent moves to destabilize the government, Communications Minister Kausea Natano said.

The one naval patrol boat owned by the island nation of about 12,000 was guarding the coastline near the homes of Governor General Iakopa Itaeli Taeia and Prime Minister Willy Telavi, while police guarded the two compounds on the main island of Funafuti, which is also the capital.

Emergency rule limits meetings to no more than 10 people in a bid to resolve the crisis sparked by demands for Finance Minister Lotoala Metia to resign. The protest attracted about 50 people who marched around the main island, carrying placards.

The resignation demand "was creating instability," Natano told The Associated Press by telephone from Funafuti.

"We're trying to put a stop to it and get things stable again," he said, adding that that Metia was placed under police guard after threats were made to his safety. He did not elaborate.

Tuvalu held general elections in September, but parliament was dissolved three months later after a successful no-confidence vote. Telavi was elected prime minister Dec. 24.

Natano said the protests were masterminded by the current government opposition, but did not give a reason why Metia was specifically targeted.

Natano said the two-week-long emergency decree would be reviewed and likely lifted Wednesday.

Tuvalu — a cluster of nine low-lying coral atolls — is at the forefront of the group of small island states seeking urgent international aid because they believe climate change will raise oceans to levels that will swamp their countries.

Tuvalu is made of just 10.4 square miles (26 square kilometers) halfway between Hawaii and Australia in the South Pacific.