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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – A Papua New Guinea MP claims ongoing anti-government protests by students are a threat to national security.

The Wabag MP, Robert Ganim, made the statement after police in Enga claimed students rioted there last week.

However opposition MPs cautioned that the government was trying to discredit the protesters by falsely portraying the students as an unruly minority who were being manipulated by political interests.

The newspaper,The National, reports the local police commander, Superintendent George Kakas, saying he had refused to allow students from the University of Technology to conduct an awareness campaign in Wabag.

Police have confirmed that students from the University of Papua New Guinea and University of Technology, including some students from high schools in Wewak, East Sepik, have been arrested.

East Sepik Provincial Police Commander Peter Philips said the students were arrested as they were driving around, causing a commotion and for unlawful assembly in the township area.

The students have been charged and arrested under Section 64 for Unlawful Assembly.

Kakas said students hadn’t given enough time to apply to hold their campaign event and he dismissed the need for any protest.

Philips told the Post-Courier: “They were just driving around town making noise and not doing any awareness.” Large groups of students from Unitech and University PNG have been touring the provinces, including urban centres of the Highlands provinces, to raise awareness about the grievances behind their ongoing protests.

University students around PNG have been boycotting classes for a month in a protest at Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s refusal to stand down after he was implicated in alleged fraud.

O’Neill has refused to co-operate with fraud squad police who secured an arrest warrant for him two years ago, recently re-stating that he has no intention of stepping down.

However while students have also refused to back down from their protests, their mobilisations have been largely peaceful.

Reports from the Highlands indicate the students’ public discussion forums have been orderly and well-attended.

But police in some provinces have taken a low-tolerance approach to the student-led public forums.

In Enga, Kakas said people were hurt and damage had been caused. He warned he would make the students pay for it.

Opposition leader Don Polye is calling on the police to release the students immediately.

He said such detainment is uncalled for in a democratic country like PNG.

Polye said the students were just practicing their rights to do awareness and inform their parents and the people of the nation about issues affecting the country.

“For the police to lock them up in cells is uncalled for and morally wrong.”

Last week, as police were deployed on University of PNG campuses in Port Moresby, the tertiary institution’s council ended the current semester early and evicted the students.

A subsequent appeal to the National Court put a stay on the eviction.

- PNC sources