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Protesting students ‘losing support’

Thursday 30 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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Police boss denies giving command to shoot

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – A member of parliament in Papua New Guinea says students should end their protest before they lose public support.

The students at universities in Lae, Goroka and Port Moresby have been boycotting classes since the start of May while demanding the Prime Minister steps down.

Curfews have now been imposed at the University of PNG in Port Moresby – and Unitech in Lae where a student was killed and buildings burned on Saturday.

The member of parliament for Goroka, Bire Kimisopa, a former police minister, said about 80 students from his province want to return to class, but they have been forced off their Port Moresby campus by the student leaders of the boycott.

“The protest’s intention has been a noble one but if it’s going to be rolled on simply because some members of the Student Representative Council (SRC) felt that it’s appropriate that they continue to strike, then public goodwill and empathy for the university will dissipate.

“They will lose support from the public. It’s important that the SRC reconvene and allow students to get back into the campus now.”

Kimisopa said Goroka students in Port Moresby were being cared for by the community as they couldn’t afford to fly home.

Meanwhile, his comments about the risk of students losing public support were echoed by a church leader.

The general secretary of Papua New Guinea’s Conference of Catholic Bishops, Father Victor Roche, said the violence had caused the public to lose heart.

“I don’t think the students have the support of the public now, at least the majority of the public,” he said.

“We from the Catholic Bishops Conference, we call on the student body – they have to re-think the direction they have to take. Especially now it is their academic year at stake.”

Father Roche said students must resolve their internal differences before they can reconcile with the administration of their universities.

Meanwhile, police authorities in Port Moresby say they are confident an inquiry into alleged police shootings on a university campus will exonerate them.

Earlier this month, over twenty students from the University of PNG in Port Moresby were hospitalised after police opened fire on them when they attempted to march to parliament.

Since the shootings at the UPNG three weeks ago, tensions have been building at PNG’s two other main universities in Goroka and Lae.

At the weekend, a first-year student was killed at Lae’s University of Technology and buildings were burned.

As Lae police arrested three suspects in what they believe was a targeted attack related to local tribal conflict, pressure is growing on the government to respond to the rising tensions.

The NCD Metropolitan police commander, Ben Turi, said he was at the campus and gave no command to shoot – he maintained the reports were exaggerated.

He said some police shot in the air outside the campus and used tear gas to disperse crowds on the streets blocking businesses.

But a student representative Hercules Jim, said it would be hard to argue against the student eye-witnesses.

“Some students were shot in the head and on the wrists and all this, how do you expect the bullets that were shot into the sky to go into their heads and into the students?” Jim said.

“The claim by the police that they have not shot the students is not true and we condemn their actions and we want to make sure there is justice served.”

Jim said that due to the weekend’s violence and loss of life in Lae, all protest activities had been stopped.

For the alleged arson at the Unitech, no witnesses have come forward and no arrests have been made.

Lae Metropolitan Commander Chief Superintendent

Anthony Wagambie said the three suspects arrested for murder are students of the University who were identified by a witness who was present with the victim at the time of the alleged murder.

The Commission of Inquiry will look into the role of the Student Representative Council, the management of the universities, the role of police and whether there was outside influence and incitement of students.

- RNZI/PNC