Pacific News Briefs
PITA TAUFATOFUA CONFIDENT IN PYEONGCHANG
Tonga's Pita Taufatofua will make his Winter Olympics debut later today in Pyeongchang.
The 34-year-old, who represented Tonga in taekwondo at the 2016 Summer Olympics, will compete in the men's 15km freestyle event, little over a year after attempting cross country skiing for the first time.
Taufatofua completed five races during qualifying and was confident of producing his best performance in Korea.
"That's what I've been doing throughout this qualification process is just giving my best," he said.
"My best performance is probably a while away from people who have been skiing since they've been born — just in terms of VO2 max and that level of cardio, that's built up over years and years, but in terms of what I've done before I've got no doubt that I can beat my last self."
The Head of Sport for the Royal Tonga Ski Federation, Steve Grundmann said they have spent the past ten days training on the Olympic course in increasingly challenging conditions.
"It was very tough because the snow changed a bit. It was really really cold and it was really dry and it was old snow and now it's getting warmer," he said.
"Actually a lot warmer and tomorrow (Friday) is going to be warmer again. It's a solid track.
"We're still happy about it, Pita is still happy about it that it's not getting too soft and too slushy, because that would make everything a bit more difficult but he feels very comfortable in it and he was practicing now the last ten days on it and feels very comfortable.
"It's a tough course, it's a really tough course: some intense hills in it and 15km is really long so he has to perform at his max."
The devastation in Tonga from Cyclone Gita has also occupied much of Team Tonga's thoughts this week.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach contacted Pita Taufatofua and offered his support to rebuild sporting facilities in the Kingdom.
Steve Grundmannn said it adds to their motivation to perform well and represent Tonga on the world stage.
"For him and the whole team and family and friends it was a big big shock shock of course and first of all it puts everything into perspective," he said.
"Because you make sure everybody is alright, you know everybody on the island and take care of everything and that was a little bit of a setback (for us) but we can just cause awareness here and send out prayers or messages to people to people to help.
"It's always a tough situation for him - he's an athlete, he's at the Olympics. It's a tough decision but he will compete for Tonga because that's probably the best thing he can do at the moment but it's definitely not going to be easy for him and of course his mind is also somewhere else."
SAMOA’S PRISON PLOT SUSPECTS NAMED
Murderer and drug criminal, Tagaloasa Filipaina and a relative, Ovalegi Poli, have been identified as two of the suspects behind the failed mass prison breakout last Friday.
Police Superintendent, Auapa’au Logoitino Filipo, confirmed this yesterday.
He told the Samoa Observer that the suspects have been removed from the Tafa’igata Prison.
They are both under custody of the Police.
‘They are both convicted drug defendants,” said Auapaau. “As for your question on where the suspects are held, I will not answer that. I cannot give out that type of information, it is classified.”
Auapa’au said the decision was made following the foiled escape attempt last week.
“Look, all I can say is that the suspects are no longer at the Tafaigata Prison, they have been removed from the Prison for security reasons.”
Last week, the Police received information from Prisons authority relating to a planned mass prison break involving a coordinated effort by the prisoner’s hierarchy.
About 90 Police officers descended on the Prison. The Police also used the opportunity to raid the prison.
“We conducted a raid inside the Prison and discovered more than 30 marijuana joints and stash of cash.”
Efforts to get direct comments from Minister of Prisons, Tialavea Tionisio Hunt, on the prisoners behind the plot have been unsuccessful.
(Source: Samoa Observer)
SAMOA'S FORMER HEAD OF STATE FELT PRESSURED TO SIGN LAND LAW
Samoa's former head of state says he was pressured into signing a controversial land law and he says it should be repealed.
Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi said he signed the Land Title Registration Act in 2008 before realizing there should have been a referendum on it.
Tupua, who was speaking at a conference in New Zealand, said he was told the act would not affect customary land rights.
He said Samoans need to understand legislation that effects their customary rights and do everything to keep their land.
"There is a very insistent call to try and identify what it is that makes us the people that we are and once we find that, how to find the match with western theology, philosophy, politics because you have to live with others in the world, you have to relate to them in so many ways."
Tupua was a keynote speaker at the inaugural Pacific Law, Custom and Constitutionalism Conference in Auckland.
The first stage of the three part conference explored Samoan traditional leadership, customary land tenure and religion.
NOUMEA AIRPORT TO CLOSE AS CYCLONE GITA APPROACHES
The domestic airport in Noumea will close this afternoon as Cyclone Gita heads towards New Caledonia.
The system, which has been downgraded to a category three storm, is expected to track west and southwest from its current location and will pass over the southeast islands of New Caledonia over the next day or so.
It is forecast to pass to the south of Mare and the Isle of Pines from tonight, bringing wind gusts of up to 130 kilometres an hour.
Air Caledonie put on additional flights to transport passengers from the Isle of Pines, where the airport is now closed.
Air Loyaute, which flies to the Loyalty Islands, has cancelled today's flights.
Teachers who were due to prepare next week's start of the school year have deferred their planning sessions until Monday.
Deputy Director General of the South Pacific Community in Noumea Cameron Diver said the warning level for Gita was increased for the Isle of Pines earlier today.
Activities at sea were banned on the Isle of Pines and people were advised to board up their houses and secure their livestock.
Mr Diver said the whole of New Calendonia was on a pre-alert level, but if the cyclone tracked as predicted it was only the Isle of Pines that would be on alert level one.
"[That] means that they should start getting prepared for strong winds, the seas that can accompany that, to secure property and ensure that when alert level two, which is the highest level of alert, comes in place people can just head home and stay safe.
"But for the moment that's only for the Isle of Pines and the rest of New Caledonia remains on pre-alert."
Mr Diver said people were remaining vigilant and in Noumea the strongest impact of the cyclone was expected to be felt this evening.
Forecaster Rajneel Prasad said gale force winds may affect Noumea as the cyclone approaches.
The location of tropical cyclone Gita was 480km east of Noumea at 6am (Fiji time, 7am NZT) this morning, he said.
During the night to Saturday, the storm was expected to pass between 100km and 150km south east of the Isle of Pines, veering into the Tasman Sea.
The system was forecast to bring winds gusting up to 120km/h to the Isle of Pines by the evening.
Winds in excess of 100km/h are possible for the southern part of the island of Grande Terre.
Heavy rain is expected in the south of New Caledonia in the night to Saturday and Mr Prasad said storm surges and damage to infrastructure were likely.
"We do expect some storm surges in this. And since it's a category three system it's also a hurricane," Mr Prasad said.
"It's a category three system that is heading towards them, and we are expecting damages to infrastructure too."
Mr Prasad said the cyclone was likely to impact New Caledonia for the next 30 to 48 hours on its current track.
MetService New Zealand said Gita was likely to head towards New Zealand early next week.