Deaths, mass looting in Papua New Guinea as police go on strike

Papua New Guinea’s capital Port Moresby has descending into chaos with at least 15 deaths reported and mass looting reported.

Police are being moved in to quell riots, with authorities blaming “opportunists” and admitting the situation “spiralled out of control”.

The unrest was sparked by a festering pay dispute involving PNG’s security forces.

On Wednesday, angry protests broke out in the capital, where a crowd torched a police car outside the prime minister’s office.

At least 15 people have died in the violence, described as “absolute anarchy”, which has also spread to the nation’s second-largest city Law, the ABC reports. At least 180 extra police have been flown in to help restore order.

The shelves of shops have been stripped bare by looters, local media outlet the Post Courier reports, with some businesses only opening for one hour as desperate customers gather to buy food.

Some of the looters are young children.

“Bags of rice, flour, tinned goods, soft drinks and every thing one could need in a home were whisked away by these men, women and children who seemed so innocent at first glance,” the outlet described one raid. Some of the looters were then scattered by gunfire.

The unrest began as soldiers, police officers and prison staff staged a lively but peaceful protest on Wednesday morning, after noticing their pay had been docked without explanation.

Public servants received about $100 less in their pay, which the country’s taxation body blamed on a “glitch”.

But by Wednesday afternoon pockets of unrest had spread through the capital Port Moresby, with video clips on social media showing crowds looting shops and stretched police scrambling to restore order.

“It’s unfortunate that the situation has turned out this way, so uncalled for,” Police Commissioner David Manning said.

“But we are doing all we can to control the situation in the city.”

Crowds tried to smash a chain on a tall security gate outside the prime minister’s office, video images showed, before eventually tearing it off its rails.

They then unsuccessfully tried setting fire to a guard post, before eventually torching a white police SUV parked outside the compound, an AFP correspondent on the scene said.

While security forces started the demonstrations, it was unclear if they were responsible for the ensuing turmoil.

The AFP correspondent based in Port Moresby said a mix of “police, soldiers and civilians” appeared to be involved.

The government said the pay deductions were the result of an unintended glitch, and has promised to fix it promptly.

“I want to appreciate all of you today,” Internal Security Minister Peter Tsiamalili said in conciliatory remarks to protesters before the trouble began.

“I just want to again reassure all our policemen and women that I am here to make sure that your welfare is addressed.”

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has called for calm.

“Our high commission in Port Moresby are keeping a very close eye on what is occurring there, making sure Australians are looked after,” he said at a press conference, the Australian Financial Review reported.

“We continue to urge calm at this difficult time. We haven’t had any requests from the PNG government at this time but … our friends in Papua New Guinea, we have a great relationship with them.”

– with AFP

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