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Tear gas sends thousands fleeing in Mt. Hagen

By David Mmuri and Johnny Polya PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Nov. 2, 2009) – OUSTED Kandep MP Don Pomb Polye was disrupted in the midst of his speech as thousands of supporters fled in all directions for safety when a tear gas canister was thrown into the midst of the crowd, disrupting his political rally in Mt Hagen last Friday.

Mr Polye was immediately whisked away into a waiting vehicle by heavily armed policemen while other MPs and senior executives of the National Alliance (NA) party fled for safety in the surprise attack.

SEVERAL people lost their valuables including Mr Polye and Wapenamanda MP Miki Kaeok who both lost their mobile phones.

Many people were affected by the tear gas including veteran radio personality Roger Au’ofa who was doing live coverage on FM 100 at the Queen Elizabeth Park. The nationwide broadcast was also disrupted.

Some leaders were seen jumping off from the dais for fear of their lives and took cover beside parked vehicles but luckily no one was severely injured. Only Mr Polye received a minor cut to his left thumb.

Leaders caught in the disturbance were Education Minister James Marabe, Tambul-Nebilyer MP Benjamin Poponawa, Koroba-Kopiago MP John Kekeno, North-Waghi MP Benjamin Mul, Mr Kaeok, Mr Polye, NA General secretary Joyce Grant, deputy president James Kond and former deputy governor Wai Rapa. Internal Security Minister Sani Rambi left the stage 30 minutes before the incident.

In a press conference at his Avi home on Saturday, the former deputy prime minister said this was not the first time such an incident happened in his political rallies. In 2007, he said, an assassination attempt was made on his life at a gathering in Kandep. Another rally was also sabotaged by supporters of rival candidates. "It’s not the first time I’ve experienced such things. I’ve experienced twice in Kandep and that disturbance was not tear gas but live bullets but thank God… . one person was arrested and charged," he said.

He said the disturbance was not surprising, adding that he had expected such an attack. He alleged that many of such attacks were being planned and were imminent. Mr Polye asked leaders not to use innocent youths to pursue their evil motives after learning that the canister was dropped by a youth. He said the proper way to challenge him is to hold similar rallies and draw huge crowds like him.

"I can’t specifically point out anybody but there are strong indications that the disturbance may have been orchestrated by my political rivalry in the region. It was a Highlands regional political rivalry, associated with my rivals in the by-election in Kandep that may have been behind the disturbances, " Mr Polye said.

He said he was a leader in the National Alliance Party’s regional branch and people from other parties in the region did it simply to destabilise the party.

"That was so childish and disrespect for all the leaders at the rally. Can’t see anybody achieving anything from such public disturbances," Mr Polye said.

One youth was arrested and is behind the bars at the Mt Hagen police cells.

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