Governor says live firing on PNG marchers ‘unwarranted’

The Governor of Papua New Guinea’s capital said the use of live ammunition on students was “unwarranted” and has challenged Government claims that police were provoked with stone throwing, kicking off a violent confrontation.

University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG) students were trying to march to the national Parliament on Wednesday to continue a long-running protest against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill when violence broke out.

At least 17 people were injured in the confrontation, including one who received a gunshot wound to the head.

The Opposition has launched court action against the Government, demanded an inquiry into the shooting of the protesters and urged Parliament be recalled so it could debate a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Parliament was adjourned for two months on Wednesday, after police shot students who were trying to march on the building.

The Governor of Port Moresby’s National Capital District (NCD), Powes Parkop, said he was still not sure if the circumstances warranted the use of firearms, and that the use of live ammunition “was completely unwarranted”.

“There was no need for live ammunition to be used because the students were unarmed,” Mr Parkop told Pacific Beat.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr O’Neill condemned “agitators” for instigating the violent confrontation.

“The facts relayed to me are that a small group of students were violent, threw rocks at police and provoked a response that came in the form of tear gas and warning shots,” it said.

Government advisers said it was not clear whether police had fired warning shots or fired directly into the crowd.

“The factors that led to students being injured are yet to be ascertained,” said a statement quoting Mr O’Neill.

Those on the march and media attending claim police fired directly into the crowd.

“The police commissioner assured everyone yesterday that the police have discharged their duties, and if there was anything illegal or unwarranted they will be dealt with,” Mr Parkop said.

PNG opposition leader Don Polye said the police were to blame.

“Police have caused this situation. It is not the students. It is very easy to blame the students but the students were unarmed,” he told Pacific Beat.

“What the police did is provoke the students by firing live shots, live bullets, as well as tear gas because the students stood their ground and said ‘look, can you escort us, can you provide security and escort to the Parliament and back’. The police did not want to do that.”

At a press conference later on Thursday, Mr Polye said police should be investigated.

“To go out there and stop the students illegally, unconstitutionally and fire live rounds into the students, into the crowd, without any care, any sense of responsibility,” he said.

“That’s unacceptable and must be condemned by the society, not just in Papua New Guinea but by the world at large.”

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has called for calm, saying any response to protests should be proportionate and that marchers should be peaceful.

“Prime Minister Turnbull spoke to Prime Minister O’Neill last evening and offered support if the Government needed it. But that offer was not taken up,” she said.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan said AFP officers had suspended cooperation with local police.

The University of Papua New Guinea has also obtained a court order against further protest action.

Police have also brought in extra officers, including recruits from the police college, to deal with any further outbreaks of violence around the capital.

Claims of student provocation questioned

Mr Parkop said there was no detail available to support Mr O’Neill’s claim of stone throwing.

He said he had met with the police commissioner, his two deputies and the district police commander, and it was not mentioned to him.

“I have not heard any such claim. The Prime Minister might have some more information but up to now I have heard such a claim,” Mr Parkop said.

Mr Parkop said the police command told him: “There was some sort of provocation, students tried to command (commandeer) public transport and chase the passengers out.

“So they tried to disperse [them] and as a result there was a stampede and people might be injured.”

He said the police chiefs told him the confrontation began as the students did not have a permit for the march onto Parliament.

“My understanding [is that] they were going to peacefully march to Parliament. So apart from not getting a permit I really don’t see any problem with that,” he said.

One of those at the march, UPNG student Peter Nahi, said the protesters pleaded with the police to provide security for their march to Parliament when the shooting began.

“[The] superintendent rejected our requirements and they told us to go back to campus, and then they shoot us,” he said.

“Even they went into the campus and shoot us, right even into our dormitories. For one hour or so chasing every student like pigs.”
Mr Nahi said they did not throw rocks or provoke police in any way, as claimed by the PNG Government.

He told Pacific Beat that the claim of provocation “was a lie”.

“We put our hands on our head … We did not throw any rock or stone or whatever at the police. We were just standing out peacefully and they shoot us.”

Mr O’Neill said there would be an investigation into who was funding the students and any outside “agitators” encouraging them to protest.

Mr Polye denied any direct links to the student movement that has paralysed tertiary education in the country since early May.

“His claims, his allegations are hopeless, unfounded nor true, he is making these wild allegations without the facts to prove it,” Mr Polye said.

“It does not take the opposition to influence, finance or to front anyone, let alone the students, to address issues that affect him.”

— With Richard Ewart

Original at ABC News