Papua New Guinea in grief after Grand Chief Somare, 84, passes on

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Sir Michael Somare
PNG's "founding father" Sir Michael Somare ... his political career spanned half a century from 1968 until his retirement in 2017. Image: PNG Post-Courier

Asia Pacific Report

Papua New Guineans awoke this morning to great sadness, reports the PNG Post-Courier.

As the bells tolled with the sad news of the passing of the much beloved statesman and the founding father of the nation, newsfeeds and social media were abuzz with shock, grief, sadness and tributes to the great man who led his country to independence in September, 1975.

Grand Chief Sir Michael Thomas Somare was 84 when he succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the Pacific International Hospital in the country’s capital Port Moresby.

The national government has ordered all flags lowered to fly half mast as the country prepares to mourn a man considered the architect and cornerstone of a free and democratic Papua New Guinea.

The Somare family announced his passing in a brief media statement saying Michael Thomas Somare had passed away at 2am today.

In a statement his family announced: “Sir Michael was only diagnosed with a late stage of pancreatic cancer in early February and was admitted to hospital on Friday, 19 February 2021.

“Sadly, pancreatic cancer is one of the most aggressive cancers that are rarely detected early. We as a family had only two weeks to look for possible treatments.”

“Sir Michael, born on 9 April 1936 in Rabaul, was a pivotal politician leading PNG to independence on 16 September 1975.

“His political career spanned half a century from 1968 until his retirement in 2017. He had been the longest-serving prime minister (17 years and four terms of office).

“He had been minister of foreign affairs, leader of the opposition and governor of East Sepik.

“As a man of great faith, Sir Michael was able to be given his last rites and anointing by Cardinal [John] Ribat. In our presence Sir Michael opened his eyes to acknowledge the blessing by his eminence before passing away peacefully. We take this opportunity to thank the cardinal for making himself available so quickly.”

The family said that Sir Michael would be taken home to his final resting place in the East Sepik province.

“We, his children, know that it is the wish of both our parents to be laid to rest together on Kreer Heights in Wewak.

“We thank everyone who in those few days had worked so hard to save Sir Michael’s life be it through a Medivac, healthcare itself or providing transport. We also thank everyone who wrote in to express their support and offer their prayers to our father and our family. We are humbled.”

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