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State of emergency declared in Papua New Guinea after 16 killed in riots

An aerial view of smoke billowing from burning buildings, amid looting and arson during protests over a pay cut for police that officials blamed on an administrative glitch, in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea January 10, 2024. (Photo by Femli Studio)

Papua New Guinea's prime minister has declared a 14-day state of emergency in the capital, Port Moresby after 16 people were killed in riots in the Pacific island nation.

On Thursday, Prime Minister James Marape, who suspended the chief of police along with top government officials in the finance and treasury departments, announced that more than a thousand soldiers were on standby “to step in wherever necessary.”

"There was evidence of organized rioting that took place," Marape told reporters, adding that the review would ensure "we secure democracy, we secure rule of law."

The violence erupted in the capital Port Moresby on Wednesday, following a police and public sector walkout over an unexplained pay cut.

The government attributed it to an administrative error and vehemently denied the imposition of a new tax.

A televised footage displayed numerous individuals on the streets Port Moresby, while many of them were observed transporting objects that appeared to be pilfered possessions, all while the urban atmosphere became engulfed in a thick haze of dark smoke.

Officials said that police personnel of 180 were being moved to Port Moresby from regional areas to regain control.

"We have seen an unprecedented level of strife in our city, something that has never happened before in the history of our city and our country," said the capital's district governor Powes Parkop.

"Some people sadly lost their life today," he added.

According to the police, the riots led to the fatalities of eight people in Port Moresby and seven people in Lae.

Marape said on Thursday that Port Moresby was under "stress and duress" but that things were calming down.

The United States embassy in Port Moresby said police had returned to work, but that tensions remained high.

"The relative calm can change at a moment's notice," it said in a statement, adding it had received reports of violence in several other areas of the country.

The Chinese ministry of foreign affairs, while complaining to Papua New Guinea’s government, reported that several Chinese citizens sustained minor injuries, while Chinese-owned stores were targeted with acts of vandalism and looting.

“We remind Chinese nationals in PNG to pay close attention to the changing security situation on the ground,” ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said on Thursday.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the country’s high commission was monitoring the situation.

“We continue to urge calm at this difficult time. We haven’t had any requests from the PNG government at this time but … our friends in Papua New Guinea, we have a great relationship with them,” Albanese was quoted as saying.

Situated approximately 160 kilometers away from the northernmost point of Australia, has witnessed a surge in instances of violent crime within the past year.

These occurrences can be attributed to the escalating expenses of livelihood and the prevalent issue of high unemployment, which have caused tensions to rise.

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