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O’Neill attempts to diffuse escalating protests

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Papua New Guinea’s prime minister has made it clear to protesting university students calling for his resignation that he will not be stepping aside.

Peter O’Neill has published a lengthy response to a petition he last week received from students who want him to allow himself to be arrested and questioned over allegations of official corruption.

The students at the University of PNG and the University of Technology in Lae have been boycotting classes for more than two weeks in protest against O’Neill’s legal stonewalling and refusal to comply with a two-year-old warrant for his arrest.

The students are also voicing concerns over the government’s overall financial dealings.

They petitioned the prime minister after police entered the University of PNG campus in Port Moresby, shutting down the boisterous demonstrations which had occupied the centre of the campus.

After hours of waiting for a government representative to receive their petition, National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop accepted the document from student representatives and promised to deliver it to O’Neill immediately.

O’Neill in a statement thanked the students for the mature manner in which the petition was delivered saying he would comment after carefully considering their demands so as to not undermine court proceedings.

In his latest statement, in words aimed at diffusing further protests, O’Neill said: “I wish to take this opportunity to thank you for raising those issues, which are indeed of national importance and in a responsible manner, in which you have expressed yourself.

“You will agree with me that every citizen of this country has the right to speak their mind as long as this is done in a way that does not undermine the rights and safety of others.

“This right is a basic fundamental aspect of our National Constitution, and every responsible citizen must respect and exercise it in a proper manner.

“I have considered all the issues raised in the petition and having sought advices from the state agencies, I wish to outline my responses in the following manner, taking into account some matters which are before our courts.”

The statement proceeds to answer the students’ allegations of government mismanagement in areas such as foreign loans, the purchase of electricity generators, the budget deficit and problems with foreign exchange.

The document is lengthy and detailed and is viewable on several official and news websites.

O’Neill sums up by saying he hoped the information supplied would satisfy the students’ concerns.

“I trust that I have satisfactorily answered your petition and you will take whatever appropriate actions for the students to return to your classes,” he said.

“Further boycotts of classes will only affect the education of many young Papua New Guineans.

“The government and your parents have invested so much in your education, and it is important that you give this your top priority.”

The prime minister also addressed the corruption allegations against him, saying they did not make sense and were “of questionable political intent”.

“Finally, I wish to state clearly that I have no intention of either stepping aside or resigning from the Office of the Prime Minister.”