Papua New Guinea Declares State of Emergency in Capital Following Deadly Riots

In the aftermath of violent riots that claimed at least 16 lives, Papua New Guinea has imposed a state of emergency in its capital, Port Moresby. Prime Minister James Marape made the declaration following a protest by police and public sector workers over pay, which escalated into widespread chaos, looting, and destruction. The move underscores the gravity of the situation, with authorities taking drastic measures to restore order and prevent further unrest.

Emergency Measures in Papua New Guinea Capital After Violent Riots

The unrest began on Wednesday when police and public servants initiated a strike in response to a perceived pay cut, later attributed to an administrative error. The protest quickly spiraled out of control, leading to a surge of violence on the streets. Witnesses reported scenes of looting, rioting, and arson, with a mob attempting to breach the gates outside the prime minister’s office. The situation prompted Marape to declare a 14-day state of emergency, deploying over 1,000 soldiers and suspending several officials.

As Port Moresby grapples with the aftermath, soldiers and police are now patrolling the streets to maintain order. Matt Cannon, head of the local branch of the emergency responder service St John Ambulance, described the city as returning to a “new normal” on Friday, with heightened security measures and long lines at petrol stations. Efforts are underway to reopen functioning supermarkets, albeit with increased security to manage potential large crowds.

The root cause of the unrest, the pay dispute, resulted in thousands taking to the streets in protest. The initial strike by police and public servants soon escalated into widespread violence, leaving nine people dead in the capital and seven in Lae, located in the country’s north. Reports from the Australian national broadcaster ABC indicated that four individuals were allegedly shot by a business owner in a suburb of Port Moresby.

Papua New Guinea

Former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill called for Marape’s resignation in the wake of the violence, stating that he was “reeling from the shocking scenes of destruction” and labeling it the darkest day in the country’s history. O’Neill urged Marape to take responsibility, asserting that it was shameful to continue in leadership when command and control had been lost.

The toll on human life and well-being is evident, with more than 50 individuals being treated for injuries at Port Moresby General Hospital. Among the injured are those with gunshot and knife wounds, underscoring the severity of the violence that unfolded during the riots. The suspension of key officials, including the finance secretary and police commissioner, reflects the government’s efforts to address the crisis at various levels.

Australia, Papua New Guinea’s neighboring country, has acknowledged the situation and offered assistance. Defence Minister Richard Marles stated that the conditions in the country had improved, and the Papua New Guinea government had requested limited support from Canberra. The international community is closely monitoring the developments in Papua New Guinea, recognizing the potential for this crisis to have broader implications.

While Marape faces calls for resignation, he defended the decision to suspend officials, emphasizing that it does not necessarily implicate their involvement in the matters of concern. The government’s actions suggest a commitment to investigate the root causes of the unrest and hold those responsible accountable. The focus is now on stabilizing the situation, restoring essential services, and preventing further outbreaks of violence.

As the country grapples with the aftermath of the riots, the impact on its political landscape and social fabric remains uncertain. The state of emergency, with soldiers and police maintaining a visible presence, signifies a determined effort to bring stability back to Port Moresby. The coming days will be crucial in assessing the effectiveness of the measures taken and the ability of the government to address the underlying issues that sparked this wave of violence.

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