Papua New Guinea declares state of emergency after deadly riots

AFPTV video footage taken on Wednesday shows people looting in Port Moresby.

AFPTV video footage taken on Wednesday shows people looting in Port Moresby. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty

Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has declared a state of emergency, suspending government and police officials after 16 people were killed in rioting in the Pacific island nation.

A police and public sector protest on Wednesday over a pay cut that officials blamed on an administrative glitch descended into lawlessness.

Television footage showed thousands of people in the streets of the capital Port Moresby, many of them carrying what appeared to be looted merchandise as black smoke billowed over the city.

Nine people were killed in the rioting in Port Moresby and seven were killed in Lae, in the north of the gold and copper-mining country, Australian state broadcaster ABC reported on Thursday, citing police.

Chief of police suspended

Prime Minister James Marape told a press conference on Thursday he had suspended PNG’s chief of police and top bureaucrats in the finance and treasury departments while the government conducts a review into the cause of the riots.

“There was evidence of organised rioting that took place,” he told reporters, adding that the review would ensure “we secure democracy, we secure rule of law”.

Some 1000 military personnel were on standby to ward off further unrest, he said.

Violence in the capital subsided on Thursday, with the government flying in extra police to maintain order.

The United States embassy in Port Moresby said police had returned to work, but that tensions remained high.

“The relative calm can change at a moment’s notice,” it said in a statement, adding it had received reports of violence in several other areas of the country.

Several Chinese citizens were injured, with Chinese-owned stores subjected to vandalism and looting, the country’s embassy said.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the country’s high commission was monitoring the situation and Canberra had not received any requests for help from PNG, which it regularly supports in policing and security.

Urge for calm

“We continue to urge calm at this difficult time,” he said.

“We haven’t had any requests from the PNG government at this time but … our friends in Papua New Guinea, we have a great relationship with them.”

Police in the Pacific Islands nation have struggled with a surge in violent crime in the past year.

Marape has said boosting security would help to attract foreign investment in PNG’s gold and copper resources.

Police went on strike on Wednesday morning after discovering a reduction in their pay packets.

The government circulated messages on social media denying that a new tax had been imposed on police, and Marape vowed to fix any administrative error that had caused the pay shortfall.

An official told local radio FM100 on Wednesday that without police, the city had “lost control”.

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