Threat of rising oceans dominates Pacific meeting

Pacific island leaders are pressing their appeal for international assistance to deal with rising waters.

The issue dominated the opening session Wednesday of the Pacific Island Forum in New Zealand. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and senior officials from the European Union, France, China, Indonesia, and the United States are guests at the summit, which comprises the leaders of Australia, New Zealand and 14 other Pacific nations.

Kiribati President Anote Tong told the forum his country has already had to relocate some residents whose homes were lost to rising sea waters. He said his country is considering such measures as the construction of enormous sea walls or even a floating island.

Ban, who visited Kiribati and the Solomon Islands ahead of the forum, has promised to put the issue at the forefront of the U.N. agenda.

There has also been discussion of the status of Fiji, which has been suspended from the forum because of its failure to hold promised elections after its military leader, Commodore Frank Bainimarama, staged a bloodless coup in 2006.

Australia and New Zealand staunchly defend the suspension and say the smaller countries are in agreement. But Tong told reporters that many of the island nations would like to see the ban lifted.

The forum concludes Friday, just hours before the opening of the Rugby World Cup tournament in New Zealand. Dignitaries attending the forum have been invited to stay for the four-yearly event.

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