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SYDNEY, Australia – Fifteen people were killed in widespread looting and arson in Papua New Guinea, Australian state broadcaster ABC reported on Thursday, January 11, as the South Pacific country’s prime minister appealed for calm following a day of protests that turned ugly.
Eight people died in riots in the capital Port Moresby while a further seven were killed in Lae, in the country’s north, the ABC reported, citing an update from police.
A police and public sector protest on Wednesday over a pay cut that officials blamed on an administrative glitch descended into lawlessness over the day, with TV footage showing thousands in the streets of Port Moresby, many carrying what appeared to be looted merchandise as black smoke billowed over the city.
Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape told a news conference on Thursday tensions in the capital had subsided, with extra police being flown in to maintain order.
“Police were not at work yesterday in the city and people resorted to lawlessness, not all people, but in certain segments of our city,” he told a news conference on Thursday.
The United States embassy in Port Moresby said police had returned to work, but that tensions remained high.
“The relative calm can change at a moment’s notice,” it said in a statement, adding it had received reports of violence in several other areas of the country.
Several Chinese citizens were lightly injured, with Chinese owned-stores subjected to vandalism and looting, the country’s embassy said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the country’s high commission was monitoring the situation, and Canberra had not received any requests for help from Papua New Guinea, which it regularly supports in policing and security.
“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.”
Police in the Pacific Islands nation have struggled with a surge in violent crime over the past year. Marape has said boosting security would help to attract foreign investment in PNG’s gold and copper resources.
Police went on strike on Wednesday morning after discovering a reduction in their pay packets.
The government circulated messages on social media denying that a new tax had been imposed on police, and Marape vowed to fix any administrative error that had caused the pay shortfall.
An official told local radio FM100 on Wednesday that without police the city had “lost control.” – Rappler.com