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12 Jan, 2024 12:53

State of emergency declared amid deadly Papua New Guinea riots

Mass unrest has gripped the Pacific nation over a public sector pay cut, later blamed on an administrative error
State of emergency declared amid deadly Papua New Guinea riots

Soldiers and police patrolled the streets of the Papua New Guinea capital on Friday, a day after the southwest Pacific nation declared a state of emergency in response to widespread rioting during which at least 22 people reportedly died.

The unrest in Port Moresby has largely subsided, reports say, after Prime Minister James Marape announced a 14-day state of emergency and suspended several public officials. The move followed Wednesday’s public sector pay protest, which spiralled into clashes and looting.

“Breaking the law does not achieve certain outcomes,” Marape said in a national address as he declared the state of emergency on Thursday. The PM added that the situation was “still tense,” even after the chaos had largely died down. He also blamed social media “misinformation” for much of the disorder.

Papua New Guinea’s finance minister and its police commissioner were among those to have been placed on suspension by Marape’s government – though it was added that the measure “in no way indicates their involvement in matters of concern.”

Shops were ransacked and buildings set ablaze during the rioting, which occurred after police and other public servants went on strike on Wednesday over a pay cut of up to 50%, which government officials later blamed on an administrative error. Marape has said that the glitch will be corrected in next month’s paychecks.

Nine people were reportedly killed in the capital, Australian broadcaster ABC said on Thursday, citing police officials. A further seven were killed in rioting in the second-largest city, Lae, the report added. Four of those who died were reported to have been shot by a business owner on the outskirts of Port Moresby. The remains of six more people were discovered on Friday, ABC said.

In excess of 50 people are being treated for injuries including gunshot and knife wounds, Port Moresby general hospital said in a statement.

Former Papua New Guinea leader Peter O’Neill said on Friday that he was “reeling” from the “shocking scenes that gripped Port Moresby,” calling it the darkest day in the country’s history, and saying Marape should shoulder the blame.

“There is no shame in taking responsibility,” he said, referring to Marape, “but it is absolutely shameful to continue knowing you have lost command and control.”

Australia’s defence minister, Richard Marles, said on Friday that the violence in Papua New Guinea had largely been quelled, and that the country had made some requests to Canberra for assistance. Australia and Papua New Guinea have close diplomatic and trading ties, and Port Moresby is one of the largest recipients of Australian aid.

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