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Students regroup in wake of violence

Friday 10 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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PAPUA NEW GUINEA – Papua New Guinea university students are taking stock of the carnage from this week’s unrest where police opened fire on students at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Waigani Campus in Port Moresby. Police said 23 people were injured, including five critically, in the unrest, which came after police refused to allow students to walk to parliament. Most of those injured were students, understood to have been shot by police. No deaths have been reported. In the wake of the violence the university obtained a court order that disallowed students from taking actions which “are contrary to their enrolment” – in effect banning them from making further protests. Student Representatives Council member Hercules Jim said for now the campus was calm and the council was planning for the student body to meet to discuss what to do next. “We’re calling all the provincial leaders who represent each students in their own group to come and raise their views and see what is the next course of action. But that will take another two to three days. “But first of all now we are working around the clock to secure and get the names of students who have been injured and see who is missing. But the police are still present on the campus regardless.” He said, although university management had urged a return to class as the semester resumed this month, the student body at large would not back down on its demand for O’Neill’s resignation. Meanwhile, a Manus Island detainee who is in Port Moresby for medical treatment said he was afraid for his safety following the unrest. Siyavash Shakibnia and 16 other detainees are being kept at a hotel in the city while they receive hospital care. Shakibnia said he and two other detainees were in hospital when students shot by police arrived by ambulance. Shakibnia said one security guard and two supervisors were taking care of the 17 Manus Island detainees in Port Moresby. Papua New Guinea’s opposition is calling for parliament to sit again soon to address what it calls pressing issues of national importance. The parliament was on Wednesday adjourned to August amid concerns about the security situation in Port Moresby after police opened fire on the university students who planned to walk to Parliament to support the opposition’s planned vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill. The opposition leader Don Polye has slammed the police actions, calling for those behind the shootings to be imprisoned. Meanwhile he indicated the opposition would take legal action to have parliament sit before August when a grace period protecting governments from votes of no-confidence comes into play. “This government and the parliament are running away from addressing an issue that is within their mandate to find solutions to.” “Therefore the opposition is very vehement on this and we will address it by way of the court application where we would like to see an urgent answer or ruling given by the Supreme Court,” he said. Jonathan Pryke, a research fellow at Sydney think tank the Lowy Institute, has warned that O’Neill’s refusal to meet protest leaders risked fuelling further unrest, especially with the country’s economy suffering from the global slump in

commodity prices.

“Had commodity prices remained high allegations of corruption and fiscal management, not to mention the major foreign exchange shortages now facing the country, would have been far more muted as the government continued to ramp up expenditure,” Pryke wrote in the Guardian.

“For O’Neill, in a time when core services are being slashed, the dissatisfaction with government excess at the expense of everyday Papua New Guineans has become far more acute.”

Observers say O’Neill is hanging on by a simple rule of politics – he has the numbers.

“He enjoys a thumping majority in the Parliament because most MPs depend on him to provide funds for their local electorates,” Fairfax reporter Daniel Flitton commented.

“The budget in PNG is distributed among districts and any MP offside with the prime minister gets less. This has delivered a measure of political certainty in PNG where no-confidence motions have been a bane of stable government.

“But with elections expected next year, local politicians are also positioning for the future.

“The PNG economy is teetering, fuelling a nationwide headache. The country is rich in natural resources and oil and gas deposits had promised a rich stream of cash to the budget coffers.

“But in the last year, global commodity prices have collapsed, leading to extraordinary cuts to spending. The national health budget alone has been slashed by almost 40 per cent. None of this has been helped by a severe drought that had been a result of El Nino weather patters.

“Papua New Guinea is getting hotter, a rising temperature of the political kind and nothing to do with climate change. Police opened fire on protesting students in the capital on Wednesday as a tense five-week stand-off boiled over into violence.” - PNC sources