PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, July 2) – Papua New Guinea's Western Highlands Governor and former prime minister Paias Wingti escaped major injuries when he was attacked at a rally in Minj, Western Highlands province, last Friday.

According to reports reaching The National last night, some people at a political rally threw betelnut skins and stones at Mr Wingti, when they saw him emerge from his vehicle to greet people at the gathering.

The crowd was waiting for organiser and Anglimp-South Waghi MP Jamie Maxton-Graham to address the rally when the confrontation occurred.

Mr Wingti allegedly sustained a small cut on his forehead from a stone thrown by someone in the crowd.

He was rescued by some young people, who quickly surrounded him and took him to the Minj police station, where he was kept for some time before being allowed to leave.

Sources said the attackers followed Mr Wingti to the police station but the policemen dispersed them after firing warning shots into the air.

"Yes, he was attacked", Mr Maxtone-Graham told The National last night. "He received a cut on his eyebrow and he was bleeding", the National Party leader said.

One eyewitness said the incident took place around 1pm before the rally started.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said many people threw stones at Mr Wingti and some of the young men, who tried to protect Mr Wingti, also received minor cuts and lacerations to their bodies from the missiles.

The motive of the attacked was not established nor was The National able to speak to Mr Wingti, who was reported to be badly shaken as this was the first time he had been attacked at his home province in his political career.

Mr Maxtone-Graham, when confirming the incident, condemned the actions of a few people in the district.

He alleged that supporters of other candidates for the provincial seat occupied by Mr Wingti were under the influence of drugs and home brew and attacked him.

He said Mr Wingti was a national leader and must be respected by the people.

Mr Maxton-Graham said that he was deeply upset and publicly apologised in front of the huge crowd at Minj during the rally.

He said he had asked his people to pay some compensation to the governor and they all agreed.

He said that by today, they would contribute money and pigs and compensate Mr Wingti on Wednesday or Thursday.

[PIR editor’s note: Paias Wingti has served as Governor of the Western Highlands since 2002. Before that he served as Prime Minister of PNG from 1985 to 1988, and again from1992 to 1994.]

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