STUDENTS KILLED AS PORT MORESBY POLICE OPEN FIRE ON RIOTERS

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By Kevin Ricketts

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 27, 2001 – AAP/ The Age)---Three university students were killed and 17 people were wounded yesterday when PNG police opened fire to quell riots and looting sparked by a six-day anti-privatization protest.

Tensions were high in the capital last night after at least three buildings - including a police barracks - were looted and burned.

Shops and businesses were stoned and looted, and scores of cars were stoned.

The injured included a boy, 10, and a female bystander.

Unconfirmed reports said a woman had been raped after mobs looted her shop.

Prime Minister Mekere Morauta said the situation was dangerous, while police said they were over-stretched.

Port Moresby General Hospital appealed for volunteer nurses and doctors.

Police said last night that they had no accurate figures on the number of premises looted or burned, or how many people were killed or injured.

The violence followed a five-day peaceful sit-in by up to 3,000 University of PNG students, workers and the unemployed outside Sir Mekere’s office at Waigani, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from central Port Moresby.

The students were calling for an end to interference from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Australia and other foreign advisers who are helping PNG’s economic restructuring after six years of recession. In particular, they demanded an end to privatization of public assets.

Sir Mekere accepted a petition from the students on Monday and organizers said the sit-in would continue until there was a response.

After the crowd of 3,000 dwindled to about 150 on Monday night, police closed in and told them to disperse. When they refused, tear gas was used and shotguns and automatic weapons fired over their heads.

It was believed the three students died between then and 3:00 a.m. yesterday.

By first light, news of the shootings had spread and people streamed to Waigani, looting, burning and stoning as they went.

Port Moresby police commander Tom Kulunga said last night that police had to use force because buildings were being burned down and the protest had descended to "criminality."

While the capital seemed calm last night, many feared more violence by opportunists taking advantage of the outnumbered police.

The army was confined to barracks.

For additional reports from The Age, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Age.

 

WORLD BANK BECOMES THE BOGEYMAN IN PNG

By Mark Forbes Foreign Affairs Correspondent

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 27, 2001 - CNN)---To the students who nearly brought the Papua New Guinea Government to a halt this week, to the unemployed, the poor, the victims of economic reform, even to the armed forces, the World Bank has become the bogeyman of modernization.

Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta has waged a brave fight to rescue the nearly bankrupt, corruption-riddled system he inherited from Bill Skate, but the pain inflicted on an already volatile society threatened to incite unrest and overthrow his government.

Financial reforms he introduced were essential for PNG’s economic survival. To obtain a desperately needed $200 million to inject into the ailing economy, Sir Mekere turned to the World Bank last year. In return, he guaranteed public sector reform and the privatization of corrupt state enterprises.

The state-owned enterprises have long been a drain on the budget and a hive of nepotism. Reform means job losses, as does privatization. Sir Mekere has also attacked the unfettered use of government funds by MPs as handouts to buy votes in their constituencies, a reform unpopular with many grown accustomed to the largesse.

Although the reforms may be necessary, they deliver little to the person in the street except the prospect of more unemployment. Like the protesting students, they despair that the rich life of the West visible on television is becoming less, not more attainable.

Nationalistic locals resent the idea that former colonial powers, such as Australia, and institutions including the World Bank are imposing such pain.

The desire to blame, to strike out, is not confined to PNG. The attitudes driving the unrest have echoes of Australia’s flirtation with One Nation and violent demonstrations against globalization around the world.

The protesters’ demands are simple, some would say simplistic: evict the World Bank and halt privatization.

Australia believes Sir Mekere is the best leader PNG has seen and the nation’s only hope for real reform. But, since independence, no Prime Minister has served a full term and Sir Mekere has staved off the threat of a no-confidence motion only by suspending Parliament until July. Opponents, including Bill Skate, are circling, seizing on the student unrest to call for his resignation.

Earlier this year, students marched to Murray Barracks to support troops who had seized weapons and were also demanding that the World Bank should leave PNG, along with the government’s Australian advisers.

The soldiers declined to join them on the streets and the revolt was eventually defused by Sir Mekere abandoning military reforms that would have cut the army by more than half.

He kept the lid on, but only just, with the underlying problems simmering. Like PNG, the military is living beyond its means.

With similar problems across the public sector, Sir Mekere’s hope for survival is to keep the disillusioned divided. If the military and students or workers joined forces, the government would probably fall and PNG would face a disastrous future.

 

ARMY ON STANDBY AFTER PNG RIOTING

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 26, 2001 – Reuters/Kalang)---Papua New Guinea’s army is on alert overnight after student protests degenerated into violence in which three people were shot dead and 13 injured.

Acting police commissioner Joseph Kupo told reporters he had met the country’s army commander and agreed on a call-out order for the military if the situation deteriorates.

"The army is on standby," Kupo said on Tuesday."

Police used teargas to disperse hundreds of demonstrators outside Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta’s office and in a separate incident fired warning shots in the air.

"We now have three confirmed dead from gunshots to the abdominal region and head," Dr. Chris Marjen, chief executive of the Port Moresby General Hospital, told Reuters.

Police denied they were responsible for the deaths.

"Police have received information about students being shot but we don’t think it was by our men," deputy commissioner of operations Sam Inguba told Kalang National Radio.

The government district of the city looked like a battleground, with streets strewn with rocks, warehouses looted and cars and shops burned, said an Australian journalist who flew over the area in a helicopter.

National radio warned residents to stay at home because of the looting by street gangs taking advantage of the unrest.

With transport in the city severely disrupted, hospitals were working with understaffed crews.

"Today was a sad day for the country as criminals... took advantage of the opportunity to cause massive destruction to properties in the city," Kupo said.

Political And Economic Chaos

The former Australian colony has been plagued by political and economic chaos since independence in 1975.

Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta’s economic reforms and privatizations, backed by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are aimed at getting the resource-rich but impoverished South Pacific nation back on an even economic keel.

But opposition to the reforms, based on nationalist fears the country will be sold to foreigners and on fears of job losses if state firms are sold, has mounted since soldiers staged a 12-day mutiny in May over reports the armed forces would be slashed.

Shops, schools and government offices were closed on Tuesday and the streets of the capital deserted, except for some students, police and roaming gangs.

Roadblocks at one stage cut off the airport, but air services continued.

Trade unions, which were not part of the student protest but are opposed to privatization, called for Morauta to step down.

Unions threatened to close ports, shut down the national flag carrier Air Nuigini and disrupt power supplies.

Appeal For Calm

A spokesman for Morauta called for calm late on Tuesday.

"I appeal for calm in the city. I also appeal to the media not to report rumors that may be spreading because these are intended to inflame the present situation," he said.

Local reporters on the streets after dark said Port Moresby was quiet with students back on campus, but feared more trouble overnight if gangs get drunk.

Peaceful protests against the World Bank and IMF economic program began last Thursday.

Joined by the public, 2,000 students protested outside the prime minister’s office on Monday, calling on him to dump the reforms and to expel the multilateral agencies.

While most protesters dispersed after handing in a petition for the prime minister, a number stayed behind.

When they refused police orders to move off early on Tuesday, police fired teargas.

Police reinforcements were due to fly to Port Moresby from the neighboring island of Rabaul on Tuesday, police said.

Australia said the situation was very tense and warned its citizens to minimize travel around the capital.

 

STUDENTS PRESENT FOUR DEMANDS

By John Dau

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (June 26, 2001 – The National)---Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta yesterday received a four-point petition from anti-privatization protesters and urged University of PNG students to return to classes.

He met the crowd of several thousand under tight police security and received the petition addressed to the Government and the 109 Members of Parliament.

Prepared by the UPNG’ Student Representative Council and the National Union of Students, the petition wanted the Government to:

The students gave the Prime Minister 24 hours to respond. However, Sir Mekere responded several hours later.

Some of the protesters camped outside his office for five days demanding that he personally receive the petition from them. They were joined by settlement people mostly from Morata.

Most of the public schools in the NCD remained closed yesterday and workers were unable to get to work due to cessation of services by many PMV buses.

Government offices in Waigani were shut the whole of yesterday, including offices of the Department of Prime Minister and National Executive Council.

The students and their supporters spent four nights keeping the Morauta Building House under siege.

Policemen and women and mobile units from Port Moresby as well as units from Mt. Hagen, who arrived on Sunday, provided security for Sir Mekere, his ministers and departmental heads as he addressed the crowd at about 3:30 p.m. yesterday.

SRC president Augustine Molonges told the crowd: "We want to tell the Prime Minister that we are not happy about the things they are doing and we have the right to tell him." He said that he was proud that Sir Mekere had come to their level to receive the demands.

Sir Mekere, after receiving the demands, praised everyone for respecting the law and order, as PNG is a Christian country. He said the ministers; the public servants and every citizen must have the common aim of developing the country in a way where everyone could benefit.

"In a way, opportunities have to be made available to all. Thank you for your concern. We have to develop opportunities for the children, their children and their grand children," he said.

When thanking the students for their concern, Sir Mekere said that there was a system of Government and he himself as the Prime Minister could not make decisions by himself.

He said that he had to consult with all his ministers before getting back to them. "I will have answers, maybe not to all (the questions) in 24 hours," he said.

Present with Sir Mekere to receive the petition were:

Labour Minister Chris Haiveta; Transport and Works Minister Alfred Pogo; Eda Ranu Chief Executive Jamie Maxtone-Graham; Foreign Affairs Minister John Pundari; Deputy Prime Minister Michael Ogio; Chief Secretary Robert Igara; Lands and Physical Planning Minister Charlie Benjamin; Mining Minister Peter Ipatas; Agriculture Minister Muki Taranupi; Environment and Conservation Minister Herowa Agiwa; Fisheries Minister Ron Ganarafo; Minister Bougainville Affairs Moi Avei; Suspended Police Commissioner John Wakon; Secretary for Personnel Management Peter Tsiamalili; Foreign Affairs Secretary Evoa Lalatute; Defense Force Commander Brigadier General Carl Marlpo and Senior Public Servants.

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea). 

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