Monday 5 December 2016

Student protests banned in Papua New Guinea after violent clash

Published 09/06/2016 | 05:41

The students are demanding that Prime Minister Peter O'Neill resign because of alleged corruption and mismanagement
The students are demanding that Prime Minister Peter O'Neill resign because of alleged corruption and mismanagement

The University of Papua New Guinea has banned student protesters from further demonstrations following a violent scuffle with police.

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The move came as officials tried to piece together what happened during a clash that left scores of students wounded.

The university obtained an injunction from the National Court that restricts the students involved in Wednesday's confrontation from boycotting classes and barricading or locking classrooms in protest.

The court order was issued after police fired gunshots to quell a student protest in the South Pacific nation's capital, Port Moresby.

The students have been demanding for weeks that Prime Minister Peter O'Neill resign because of alleged corruption and mismanagement.

Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said the situation in Port Moresby remained volatile, and that Australia had offered Papua New Guinea help to stem further unrest.

"We are calling for calm. Obviously, lawful and peaceful protests should be allowed," she told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

"The police response should at all times be proportionate."

The government denied initial reports students had been killed in the scuffle, but acknowledged several people had been injured.

The exact number of protesters who were hurt was unclear. Mr O'Neill said five people had been injured, the country's police commissioner said 23 were hurt, five critically, and Amnesty International said 38 people were injured, four critically.

Both sides blamed each other. Mr O'Neill said he was told a small group of students became violent, threw rocks at police and "provoked a response that came in the form of tear gas and warning shots".

He said an investigation was under way.

Protesters said they had done nothing to prompt aggression from police and accused the officers of firing directly at students.

"The shooting of students peacefully protesting is reminiscent of the worst excesses of repressive regimes in the region," said Rafendi Djamin of Amnesty International.

"Papua New Guinea's authorities must establish a prompt, impartial and independent investigation to determine who is responsible for the unnecessary and excessive use of force."

Staycey Yalo, a journalism student at the university, said she and the other protesters encountered a line of police officers blocking them when they tried to march to Parliament.

The police demanded they hand over the student president, and when the protesters said no, an argument broke out, she said.

"They threw tear gas and amidst the smoke, they started shooting directly at the students," she said. "That's when we all ran."

Police in vehicles began chasing after the protesters, with officers firing from their cars at fleeing students, Ms Yalo said.

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