By Carmella Gware in Port Moresby
Students at the University of Papua New Guinea have given Prime Minister Peter O’Neill 24-hours to respond “favourably” to their petition or they say they will stage a mass withdrawal.
National Capital District (NCD) Governor Powes Parkop, a former UPNG lecturer, received the petition from Students Representative Council (SRC) president Kenneth Rapa this afternoon.
“We petition the Prime Minister to respect the Office of the Prime Minister and step down,” Rapa told more than 5600 UPNG students, more than 150 Port Moresby Technical College male students and hundreds of concerned citizens.
“We are not motivated by any political party, government, opposition or any individual. We are moved by our patriotic, nationalistic spirit to see a better nation tomorrow. That’s all.
“We have not been taking bribes and violence has not been happening on campus,” the UPNG president said.
Classrooms were open but the students themselves were exercising their democratic rights by deciding to forego classes, he said.
Parkop commended the students for maintaining their peaceful sit-in protest despite widespread predictions of violence.
‘Proud of you students’
“I’m proud of you students,” he said. “You have the right to raise your voice when you see that something has gone wrong, and we as mandated leaders have the responsibility to listen.”
The NCD governor was accompanied by Sports Minister and Moresby South MP Justin Tkatchenko, sports Vice-Minister and Moresby North-East MP Labi Amaiu, NCD police metropolitan superintendent Ben Turi, Bomana police Commandant Perou N’Dranou and acting superintendent of operations Brian Kombe.
As soon as Parkop and his delegates stepped out from their vehicles, the crowd started chanting: “O’Neill step down, O’Neill step down!”
Apart from that, the crowd was well-behaved.
Also present at the main Waigani campus were students from De La Salle secondary, Gerehu secondary, Port Moresby National High School, Tokarara secondary, Sogeri National High School and Waigani primary.
“I have received the petition from the UPNG Student Representative Council,” O’Neill said.
“I thank the students for the mature manner in which the petition was presented to my delegation.
“There are several assertions that are made in the petition for which a considered and detailed brief will be prepared and presented to the UPNG SRC.
“Considering that several of these matters are before the courts, comment must be carefully considered so as to not undermine court proceedings.
“A number of claims have been made that relate to the national economy for which comprehensive analysis will be provided to students.
“Papua New Guinea is a country in which democratic process is universally cherished and respected by our people.
“Every citizen has the right to speak their mind so long as this is done in a way that does not undermine the rights and safety of others,” said O’Neill.
“I commend students who have expressed their right to free speech in a responsible manner.”
Carmella Gware is a LoopPNG journalist.