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UPNG council backs down after protest stand-off

PAPUA NEW GUINEA – The University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) has backed down after a month-long stand off with protesting students.

The UPNG council suspended the first semester last month after students boycotted classes.

The students had been protesting Prime Minister Peter O’Neill’s refusal to comply with a warrant for his arrest over corruption allegations.

The university’s Acting Chancellor Nicholas Mann said students would continue their semester one studies before going straight into semester two.

Dr Mann urged students not to continue the boycott.

“If they decide to boycott, they will only do damage to their academic career,” he said.

The university council said the police presence on its Port Moresby campus would be maintained.

UPNG student leaders said they would announce on Monday whether they would take up the university’s offer to complete their semester one studies.

The president of the student council, Kenneth Rapa, said his compatriots did not want to put their academic careers at any more risk.

“I don’t want to be seen as the leader who jeopardised the education of 5,000 students,” Rapa told Pacific Beat.

He said the students needed to take a collective view on where to go next.

KEY POINTS:

- UPNG’s administration backs down after a month-long stand off, rescinding its suspension of the semester.

- Acting Chancellor Nicholas Mann urges students not to continue the boycott.

- Student leader hopes MPs will keep the momentum going.

Rapa said some students, especially those who had been arrested when police were called to campus protests, would not want to have taken the action for nothing and would maintain the demand for Prime Minister O’Neill to step down.

He said leaders would come up with a plan, but he hoped politicians who had supported the students would keep the momentum going.

“It’s on them now, they are the ones that we have voted into the parliament to represent us and to air the views of the people.

“Now the MPs have to come up with a plan, a strategy, not to jeopardise the education of the future generation and ... to maintain peace and order.”

Rapa said if MPs did not take control, there was a risk of wider civil unrest.

“Because of this campaign against Peter O’Neill we have had a lot of things happen over the last few weeks, like riots. These things are beyond our control.”

PNG’s politicians needed to respect the rule of law and maintain the integrity of their office, he added.

“They must leave a legacy that the next generation can extend on.” - ABC