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Protesting students spread awareness

Tuesday 31 May 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Protesting students in Papua New Guinea are spreading their call throughout the country for the Prime Minister to step down.

The students have been boycotting classes for a month while demanding Peter O’Neill face corruption allegations.

“If the prime minister is trying to go above the law, then the parliamentarians, the members who are under the arms of the prime minister they will try to go above the law,” a student representative told Radio New Zealand’s Dateline Pacific.

“And then the chain of reaction will come even to the grassroots level. Then there’s be a lawless society.”

Student leaders addressed rallies attended by thousands in the Highlands last week, to educate the public about the prime minister’s alleged corruption and the poor state of the economy.

A student leader from the University of Papua New Guinea, Hercules Jim, says politicians need to take notice and take action.

“Part of the awareness is to ask the members of parliament to cross the parliament. They know what is going on and they are being silent. There is a responsibility of the Members of Parliament to address issues which they fail and the students are taking this issue into their own hands.”

An arrest warrant was issued for the Prime Minister in 2014 over his role in allegedly illegal state payments to a law firm. He’s stymied the warrant through the courts, but the deputy leader of the opposition, Sam Basil, says it’s time for O’Neill to face the music.

“The longer the prime minister holds on to power it’s not good because most of the organisations and civil society will join in to ask the prime minister to step aside. And the more it goes on the more the economy is getting bad.

“We believe that the charges are strong and we believe that he can be sentenced. So I think the prime minister should come to his sense now and step aside and allow the process to take its course.”

The PNG doctors association has stated its support for the students, but the government has warned health workers not to join the protest.

As many as 5000 students at the University of PNG have boycotted classes for a month, prompting the administration to cancel the first semester and issue the students an eviction notice.

The University’s Public Relations Manager, James Robins, says a militant faction of students are intimidating others into joining them.

“The innocent ones I can tell you now, the girls in particular are shedding tears, but they’re conforming with those at the top who are doing the enforcing of the boycott. And that’s one of the things that it just couldn’t be allowed to go on.”

The students have denied Robins’ claim and successfully challenged their eviction in court.

One of the student leaders, Gerald Tulu Manu-Peni, says the National Court has temporarily blocked the eviction until another hearing on Wednesday.

“Court ruled that the 48 hour eviction notice issued by the university, including indefinite suspension of semester one, be stayed.

“The decision of the University Council on Tuesday is stayed by the court. That is a plus for us the students. It’s given us hope, it’s given us strength to pursue our agenda. In the meantime, many of the students are still residing on the campus.”

In response to the students, Peter O’Neill said he had no intention of standing down, and the Minister for Higher Education, Malakai Tabar told students to end their political interference.

“You should not waste this opportunity, you’ve done the best that you can do, you’ve written a petition, you’ve expressed yourself in so far as the concerns of the economy of this country is concerned. Go back to class end of the story.”

Tabar says the students have endangered their education and their future. - RNZI