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PNG’S ‘GRAND CHIEF’ MICHAEL SOMARE RESIGNS Longtime prime minister and political leader in poor health

HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, June 29, 2011) – Papua New Guinea’s "Grand Chief," Sir Michael Somare, has resigned as the nation’s leader.

The 76-year-old icon, also referred to as the "father" of post-colonial Papua New Guinea, has been under critical care in a Singapore hospital since mid-April, undergoing open heart surgery and treatment for a multitude of ailments.

The announcement was made by Somare’s son Arthur at a news conference yesterday in Port Moresby. Arthur said his father’s health is too fragile to resume the task of leading Oceania’s most populous, and prosperous nation.

"The Prime Minister was not in a position where he could coherently make such a decision for himself," said a written statement signed by Somare’s son Arthur, Radio New Zealand International reports.

Somare, the son of a Rabaul policeman, is often referred to as the "grand chief’ and "father" of independent Papua New Guinea, which gained independence from Australia in 1975. He was the country’s first prime minister, from 1975 to 1980, serving additional terms 1982, 2003 and 2007.

Somare’s absence leaves a precarious vacuum in Papua New Guinea’s government, one already felt under the interim leadership of Deputy Prime Minister Sam Abal, who in the space of several weeks has alienated himself within his own political party. But despite the absence of Somare’s steady hand, some will welcome the end of the longtime politician’s career in a government riddled with corruption.

Somare’s career was punctuated in March by the embarrassment of a tribunal that found the wily politician guilty of hiding details of his personal income over the past decade.

Also hanging over the longtime leader are unanswered questions about property he acquired in Australia, including a $349,000 apartment in Cairns and a $685,000, four-bedroom house at Trinity Beach.

Moreover, Somare presided over a richly-endowed country that despite massive foreign aide from former colonial overlord Australia and major foreign investment in mining, forestry and oil extraction, remains poverty-stricken with few services to PNG’s overwhelmingly rural population.

According to Radio Australia, it is not known when or how a permanent successor will be found with the country’s parliament in recess until August and national elections not expected till the middle of next year.

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