PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Papua New Guinea (PNG) has been plunged into a state of emergency following violent riots triggered by a police strike on Wednesday (10 Jan).
Prime Minister James Marape, in a press conference on Thursday (11 Jan), declared a 14-day state of emergency as the nation grapples with the aftermath of the unrest that has claimed the lives of 16 people.
The turmoil erupted after police, defence personnel, and other public servants staged a demonstration at Parliament House in the capital, Port Moresby, to protest a payroll issue on Wednesday (10 Jan). The situation took a dark turn when the police officers stood down at 10 am local time, leaving the capital vulnerable to chaos.
The consequences were dire, with nine fatalities reported in Port Moresby and an additional seven in Lae, the country’s second-largest city, according to Lae Metro Command’s update on Thursday (11 Jan).
St John’s Ambulance Commissioner Matt Cannon reported that paramedics responded to 40 call-outs involving severe burns and gunshot wounds on Wednesday and Thursday, highlighting the gravity of the situation.
Local security services described the night of Wednesday (10 Jan), as total anarchy, with videos circulating online showing warehouses engulfed in flames and large crowds engaging in looting and rioting. The widespread violence prompted Prime Minister Marape to take immediate action to restore order.
In a press conference on Thursday (11 Jan), Prime Minister Marape expressed “deep concern” over the unrest and urged citizens to prioritize peace and normalcy. He explained that the absence of police presence on Wednesday (10 Jan) had led to riots and looting in certain parts of the city, describing the capital as being “under stress and duress.”
Acknowledging the economic challenges faced by the country, Marape appealed to citizens, saying, “Such lawlessness does not help.” He called on all citizens to respect their country and emphasized the need to hold responsible individuals accountable for their actions.
The events in the capital seemed to have a ripple effect across the country, with the prime minister acknowledging that other centers were attempting to replicate what happened in Port Moresby.
This prompted the national cabinet to authorize defence personnel to assist the police in restoring order.
One hundred and eighty additional police officers are being flown into Port Moresby on Thursday (11 Jan) as part of efforts to regain control.
Prime Minister Marape reported that the situation had subsided, but defense personnel would remain on standby wherever necessary to contain any potential future situations.
Amidst the chaos, businesses in the affected areas are counting the costs of the damage, with some facing extraordinary repair bills. In response, Prime Minister Marape assured affected business owners that the government would explore relief measures to help them recover from their losses.
The National Security Advisory Committee met on Thursday (11 Jan) to present recommendations to the National Security Council on future actions.
After the meeting, Prime Minister Marape confirmed that defense personnel would be on standby to contain any potential escalation of violence.
However, the unrest has also taken a toll on the political landscape. Six members of the PNG Parliament have resigned from the Marape government in response to the violence.
The MPs expressed their shock and shame over the chaos and civil unrest, citing bureaucratic negligence and confusion. In a joint statement, they declared a loss of confidence in the prime minister’s leadership.
Politically, the riots present a challenge for Prime Minister Marape as the country approaches a critical period. A grace period preventing a vote of no confidence in his leadership is set to expire next month, and the recent events may further complicate the political landscape.
Internationally, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese assured that the Australian High Commission in PNG would closely monitor the situation to ensure the safety of Australians.
He urged calm and emphasized that the global community, including development partners, international partners, and investors, was closely watching the situation in Papua New Guinea.
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