Papua New Guinea: Several feared dead after major rioting and unrest

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At least eight people have died after major rioting and unrest hit Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby.

Shops and cars were set on fire and supermarkets looted as hundreds took to the streets after police went on strike over a pay dispute.

National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop said in a radio broadcast that the looting had been carried out by “opportunists”.

The government has deployed the army to try and restore order.

Another seven people died in the city of Lae, reports said.

The extent of the violence in Lae, the second-largest city in Papua New Guinea, is unclear.

“We have seen unprecedented level of strife in our city, something that has never happened before in the history of our city and our country,” Mr Parkop said in a radio address, according to a Reuters report.

He added that “some people sadly lost their life today” though he did not give a number of dead.

People run with merchandise as crowds leave shops with looted goods amid a state of unrest in Port Moresby on January 10, 2024

Image source, Getty Images

The unrest was triggered after police and other public servants staged a protest strike outside parliament on Wednesday, after discovering that their pay had been reduced by up to 50%.

Prime Minister James Marape said up to about $100 (£78) had been deducted from the pay-checks of public servants because of a computer glitch, and the government was not raising taxes as the protesters claimed.

“Social media picked up on this wrong information, misinformation,” said Mr Marape, according to the New York Times, adding that people took advantage of police being off the streets.

TV footage showed large crowds and looting across the city. A large shopping centre was among the buildings set on fire.

Ambulance officials said they had attended to several shooting injuries, while the US embassy reported shots near its compound.

People breaking into shops in Port Morseby

Image source, AFP

By Wednesday night, much of the violence had ceased as initial reports filtered in of deaths. Port Moresby has a population of about 400,000 people.

On Thursday, Australia, a neighbouring and major security partner for PNG, urged for calm in the country.

Mr Marape, who met with Australia’s leader last month, has yet to ask for peacekeeping help from the country.

Amid an economic slump in his country that has seen higher inflation and unemployment rates, the prime minister has faced increased pressure. The opposition been working to put in place a vote of no confidence against him.

Analysts say the unhappiness among the population had led to Wednesday’s unrest.

“The events of today in Port Moresby [are] manifesting and revealing the inner social and economic pains and suffering of police, military and other public servants of PNG, as well as all workers and ordinary people,” PNG Think Tank analyst ​Samson Komati told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

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