Papua New Guinea declares state of emergency after 15 killed in riots

PM announces 14-day state of emergency in the capital, Port Moresby, suspends police chief and top bureaucrats.

Two men running with looted goods on the streets of Port Moresby. There is smoke behind them and debris on the street.
People run out of shops with looted goods in Port Moresby [Andrew Kutan/AFP]

Papua New Guinea’s leader has declared a 14-day state of emergency in the capital, Port Moresby, after 15 people were killed in riots as crowds looted and burned shops.

Prime Minister James Marape on Thursday announced that more than 1,000 soldiers were on standby “to step in wherever necessary” under the emergency decree.

Marape said at a news conference that he had suspended the country’s chief of police as well as top bureaucrats in the finance and treasury departments while the government conducts a review into the cause of the unrest.

The violence erupted in Port Moresby on Wednesday evening after a group of soldiers, police officers and prison guards launched protests over unexplained deductions to their pay.

Within hours the unrest spread to the city of Lae, about 300km (186 miles) to the north of the capital.

Eight people died in Port Moresby while seven people were killed in Lae, police said.

Television footage showed thousands in the streets of Port Moresby on Wednesday with many carrying what appeared to be looted goods. Black smoke billowed over the city, and a crowd torched a police car outside the prime minister’s office.

The Chinese embassy said Chinese-owned businesses had been targeted and an unspecified number of its citizens had been hurt.

“There was beating, smashing, looting and burning, and some commercial facilities including many Chinese shops were robbed,” the embassy said in a statement.

Beijing has lodged a complaint with Papua New Guinea’s government and China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that two Chinese nationals had been “lightly injured” in the violence.

“We remind Chinese nationals in PNG to pay close attention to the changing security situation on the ground,” ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Thursday.

The Post Courier newspaper said soldiers had been deployed to help restore law and order and that military vehicles were on the streets in a “show of strength”.

Following the strike on Wednesday, an official told local radio FM100 that without police, the city had “lost control”.

An aerial view of the unrest in Port Moresby. Smoke is billowing from burning buildings
An aerial view of smoke billowing from buildings set alight during Wednesday’s unrest [Femli Studio via Reuters]

The United States embassy said while police had returned to work, tensions remained high.

“The relative calm can change at a moment’s notice,” it said in a statement, adding it had received reports of violence in several other areas of the country.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the country’s high commission was monitoring the situation, and Canberra had not received any requests for help from Papua New Guinea, which it regularly supports in policing and security.

“We continue to urge calm at this difficult time. We haven’t had any requests from the PNG government at this time but … our friends in Papua New Guinea, we have a great relationship with them.”

Police in the Pacific Islands nation have struggled with a surge in violent crime over the past year.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies