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Unrest grips Papua New Guinea as death toll rises to 22 amid violent riots

Violent riots in Papua New Guinea leave 22 dead, prompting a 14-day state of emergency. Prime Minister Marape blames police, suspends officials, and vows investigations into the orchestrated chaos.



PAPUA NEW GUINEA — The death toll from violent riots in Papua New Guinea (PNG) has surged to 22, with six additional bodies discovered in the capital city of Port Moresby on Friday (12 Jan).

This brings the total casualties in Port Moresby to 15, while seven others have lost their lives in Lae, the country’s second-largest city.

A 14-day state of emergency has been declared in Port Moresby as authorities strive to restore law and order and essential services following the eruption of violent riots.

The unrest was triggered by a police strike that left a power vacuum, escalating tensions across the nation.

During the riots, certain establishments were set on fire, leaving proprietors grappling with substantial expenses for the ensuing cleanup. (Photo: ABC News)

Throughout Port Moresby and Lae, angry crowds set shops ablaze, ripped ATMs from walls, and clashed with security forces.

Prime Minister James Marape is working to rebuild public trust in the government’s ability to maintain security and stability, though security firms warn that the situation remains unpredictable and volatile.

The Marape government has squarely blamed the police constabulary for the riots, asserting that many officers walked off the job in protest over a payroll issue just hours before the chaos unfolded.

National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop, a coalition partner with Marape, accused some security forces of inciting or encouraging looting.

“Not only [have] our security forces failed us but some of them went out of their way to incite or encourage our people to loot,” Parkop stated in a press conference on Friday (12 Jan).

Expressing his lack of trust in the national security forces, Parkop requested standby assistance from the Australian Government.

Prime Minister Marape has also raised concerns about the potential involvement of the political establishment in the violence. The impact has spread beyond the capital, with Marape noting that other centers in the country were attempting to replicate the chaos.

In response, Marape declared a 14-day state of emergency and mobilized 1,000 defense personnel to maintain order. The situation prompted a high-visibility drive-through by police and defense officers in Port Moresby to demonstrate a strong government presence.

As of Friday (12 Jan) afternoon, Marape described the state of emergency as being “toned down” with restrictions on the movement of large groups, excluding church and funeral services. The measures aim to facilitate the government’s supervision of store re-openings, as many shops were damaged during the riots.

The impact on residents is significant, with essential supplies becoming scarce. Mahesh Patel, founder, and director of PNG’s largest retailer, City Pharmacy Limited (CPL), highlighted the challenges faced by the population.

“People ran out of food and medicines during the two-day closure, and it’s impacted the whole nation,” Patel said.

The closure of stores has also raised concerns about the livelihoods of growers and farmers across the country. Patel emphasized the broader implications, stating, “It’s not about money, it’s not about CPL, it’s about the nation as a whole.”

While some banks and petrol stations have reopened with limited business hours, other businesses face massive cleanup bills.

Christine Gabriel, a local business owner, recounted her experience during the violence, emphasizing the need for swift action to protect businesses and citizens.

In north Waigani, where several stores were burnt down, resident Kennedy Kelgai expressed his dismay at the destruction, particularly its impact on the local community’s access to food supplies.

The burning of shops has also affected businesses owned by Chinese nationals, prompting the Chinese embassy in PNG to offer consular protection and assistance to affected individuals and institutions.

At a press conference on Friday (12 Jan), Prime Minister Marape attributed Wednesday’s riots to “organized arsonists” assisted by “some rogue element of our police force.” He announced a thorough investigation into the events, with results expected within the next 14 days.

To address the situation, Marape suspended the chief of police and top bureaucrats in the finance and treasury departments.

The unrest originated from a nationwide strike by police officers, soldiers, prison staff, and other public servants protesting a payroll error that deducted 300 Kina ($120) from their pay packets.

The taxation body blamed a payroll “glitch” for the error, which is expected to be rectified in the next pay cycle.

Protesters at Parliament House believed a new tax had been imposed, a claim denied by PNG’s Internal Revenue Commission.

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles acknowledged some improvement in the circumstances but emphasized continued monitoring of the situation.

“There are no reports of Australians being caught up in these activities, but we are keeping a close watch on that,” he said.

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just colonise it, AUS…