PM Marape summons troops after Port Moresby goes up in flames

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Rioters set fire to this store in Port Moresby
Rioters set fire to this store in Port Moresby as mayhem followed the police pay strike in the Papua New Guinea capital yesterday. Image: Post-Courier

By Miriam Zarriga in Port Moresby

Soldiers and police were jointly patrolling the streets of the Papua New Guinea capital Port Moresby today as the country takes stock of yesterday’s unprecedented looting and rampage by hooligans and rioters.

Prime Minister James Marape confirmed that the National Executive Council had met and approved the army to be called out to assist police restore law and order after a day of total chaos in the capital city.

Five people were killed in Waigani while several more were injured and admitted to the Port Moresby and Gerehu hospitals.

Business leaders called the day the “darkest day” in the history of PNG where millions of kina in property and goods were lost.

As buildings lay smouldering in ruins last night, Police Commissioner David Manning confirmed that an additional 50 police officers from Lae had been flown to Port Moresby.

These police will provide backup for security personnel that have been on duty for extended periods, and will increase force strength if tensions increase, Manning said.

“Cabinet has approved a call-out of PNGDF personnel, and they are working with police to restore calm.”

Parkop calls for ‘normalcy’
NCD Governor Powes Parkop appealed for normalcy to be restored and for looting to stop.

He said: “What has happened is unacceptable, unforgivable, and unjustified under any circumstances.

“We cannot afford to allow this turmoil to persist another night or day. We must uphold our pledge to safeguard the people and the state. Let us restore order and stability in our city with the support of the PNGDF.”

What started as a simple standing down from duties because of pay cuts by disgruntled security personnel in the city turned into mayhem and chaotic scenes as opportunists ransacked shops and assaulted innocent bystanders.

A group of security personnel was seen descending into Parliament House demanding to see Prime Minister Marape. Several more personnel were also seen throwing
stones at the Central Government Office, breaking the gate and eventually burning the guard house at Manasupe Haus where PM Marape was holding a press conference.

In Konedobu, multiple gunshots could be heard outside the Post-Courier newspaper office after looters broke into Desh Besh supermarket.

The Port Moresby General Hospital CEO Dr Paki Molumi yesterday confirmed receiving the first wave of cases that included casualties of two chest, one thorax, one multiple wounds in shock and nine limb and abdomen wounds.

Strikers in Kavieng, New Ireland
Strikers in Kavieng, New Ireland, as the unrest spread to other towns across Papua New Guinea. Image: PNGPC

Razed by looters
In Gerehu, at Rainbow, the Stop and Shop was looted, while the main shopping centre near the market was razed. Waigani’s Stop and Shop also razed by looters.

Patients at Gerehu Hospital were also evacuated and taken to Port Moresby General Hospital amid the chaotic scenes.

Across the city reports of widespread looting of shops were coming in from Gerehu, Waigani, Tokarara, Konedobu, Manu Auto-Port, Badili, Hohola, Gordons and other areas.

St John Ambulances were called to many of the locations with multiple emergency calls relating to shootings and monitoring a number of fire incidents in the city.

Police vehicles drove by looters and rioters, some even giving a thumbs up and telling them to continue what they were doing.

The chaos yesterday was sparked by a simple technical glitch on the government’s Alesco Payroll System which paid public servants on a previously rescinded tax regime which resulted in workers including police and defence forces receiving heavily reduced pay packets.

This angered police to stand down from their duties and soldiers and police to march on the Parliament demanding answers to their pay cuts.

Strikers demand answers
At 10am, security personnel descended onto Unagi Oval in Gordons demanding answers as to why some of them were receiving 100 to 350 PNG kina (US$26-$80).

Minister for Internal Security Peter Tsiamalili Jr was shouted down with a thrown plastic container missing the minister as he left the oval.

The personnel drove into Parliament, and also shouted at acting Governor-General Job Pomat that they wanted to speak to PM Marape.

By 3pm, frustrated with the lack of response, the attention was now on Manasupe House. A vehicle and the guard house was destroyed and burned.

At 5pm, Assistant Commissioner of Police-NCD and Central Anthony Wagambie Jr confirmed that the PNGDF had been called on to support the police as they worked to bring peace and order in the city.

Miriam Zarriga is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.

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