Court to quell student protest in Papua New Guinea

2016-06-09 08:32


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Sydney - A court in Papua New Guinea has granted an injunction preventing students from protesting on campus with the country on high alert on Thursday after violent clashes in the capital Port Moresby.

The sprawling Pacific nation, where crime and lawlessness is rampant, was rocked on Wednesday when police opened fire on students preparing to rally against Prime Minister Peter O'Neill, who is being investigated for corruption.

Casualty reports vary, with Police Commissioner Gari Baki saying 23 people were hurt and five critical. Amnesty International said it had information that 38 people were injured and blasted the shootings as "disgraceful".

O'Neill has blamed students for provoking the police by throwing rocks, but PNG opposition leader Don Poyle said it was wrong to shoot at unarmed civilians.

"Police have caused this situation. It is not the students. It is very easy to blame the students but the students were unarmed," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Violent clashes

According to the PNG Post Courier on Thursday, of the five in critical condition one was shot in the head with another taking a bullet in the chest. Others admitted to hospital were treated for minor injuries and released, it added.

Witnesses said the clashes broke out as students rallied to march from the University of Papua New Guinea to parliament and that police used tear gas and then opened fire in a bid to herd them back onto campus.

Students have been locked in a month-long standoff with authorities in the impoverished nation, north of Australia, and have boycotted classes as they demand O'Neill step aside over corruption allegations he denies.

O'Neill blamed "political agitators" for stirring the unrest and the National Court granted an order against members of the university's student council, restraining them from organising protests and from preventing students attending classes.

"The overwhelming majority of students simply want to go to class, sit their exams and proceed to the next semester," Education Minister Malakai Tabar said after the injunction late on Wednesday.

"Hard working students have been held hostage by the people with political agendas and that has now been brought to an end by court order.

"We all know that the real ringleaders behind the incident are not students, and now it will be hard for them to hide amongst the student body."

'Come down hard'

O'Neill has been wanted for questioning by anti-corruption police for the past two years but has refused to comply with a warrant for his arrest.

Police are investigating whether he authorised millions of dollars in illegal payments from the government to Paraka Lawyers, one of the nation's largest law firms.

When the arrest warrant was issued in 2014, O'Neill sacked the PNG police commissioner, fired his attorney-general and suspended numerous other justice department and police officials.

He also moved to disband the anti-corruption watchdog.

Police Commissioner Baki said an investigation was being conducted into the shootings and that all available police manpower would be on the streets Thursday to ensure peace and order and they would "come down hard on any opportunists who want to cause trouble".

Australia is Papua New Guinea's closest neighbour and largest aid donor, and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop insisted Thursday that "obviously lawful and peaceful protests should be allowed" in a democracy.

"PNG is a sovereign nation and we have made an offer of support or assistance in any way and I know that PNG would ask Australia if it thought it required help but that request has not been made," she added to reporters.

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