‘We’re not primitives’ says UPNG student protest over foreign minister’s ‘disrespect’

UPNG students . . . marching to Parliament today
UPNG students . . . marching to Parliament today in protest over offensive comments. Image: Scott Waide/RNZ Pacific

By Scott Waide, RNZ Pacific PNG correspondent

Students at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) marched to Parliament House in in the capital Port Moresby today in protest over offensive comments made by Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko.

Tkatchenko was responding to a public backlash over a TikTok video — depicting luxury travel and high end shopping — posted by his daughter, Savannah, during a taxpayer-funded trip to King Charles III’s coronation in London.

In an interview with ABC Pacific Beat, he called the critics “useless” and “primitive animals”.

His comments have been condemned by PNG’s opposition leaders, but Prime Minister James Marape said Tkatchenko had apologised for his comments. Marape has asked people to forgive the minister.

University students began gathering today around a banner hoisted outside the campus and began marching to Parliament.

“It is not just about the offensive comments,” UPNG student Michael Pais said.

“The primary reason is the manner in which money has been spent on this trip and the extravagance displayed while our people lack the most basic services,” he said.

‘Blatant disrespect’
“The minister’s response shows a blatant disrespect for PNG.”

The Papua New Guinea Trade Union Congress (PNGTUC) held a news conference this afternoon and issued a strong statement calling for Tktchenko’s removal as foreign minister.

“We will not accept the apology given to the Prime Minister [Marape],” Police Union president Lowa Tambua said.

“It is not a matter for the Prime Minister to decide if we should forgive [and] forget. It is a matter for the 10 million people of this country to decide,” he added.

Earlier, the PNG Post-Courier’s Miriam Zarriga today reported that former metropolitan police commander Andy Bawa had confirmed he was putting together necessary documents in response to opposition spokesperson Belden Namah’s call for Tkatchenko’s resignation and the stripping of his PNG nationality.

Bawa said he would make a formal complaint.

“The media will be advised,” he added.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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UPNG students protest over offensive comments.
UPNG students are not happy with Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko calling Papua New Guineans “primitive animals”. Image: Scott Waide/RNZ Pacific
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