Asia-Pacific

'Unnecessary brutality': PNG police open fire on protesting university students

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Police have fired on a group of protesting university students in Papua New Guinea, wounding several with unconfirmed reports of fatalities.

Papua New Guinea police have opened fire on students in the capital Port Moresby as they tried to march on Parliament.

At least 11 students were shot as they tried to leave the UPNG campus in Waigani, with unconfirmed reports of possibile fatalities.

Reports say at least 10 have been admitted to Port Moresby's general hospital.

"Now there is a very big clash with the public and with the police just outside the Port Moresby General Hospital," a hospital official told Reuters by telephone from the admissions department.

"There is also shooting going on, open gunfire."

Oro province Governor Gary Juffa told SBS News the police had been armed with assault rifles and their reaction had been “heavy-handed” and “a demonstration of unnecessary brutality”.

“The use of police in a very brutal fashion to suppress dissent and to stop democratic expressions of concern by groups, whether they be student groups or civil society groups, starts sending signals that we are not a democratic nation; that we are seeing the birth of an authoritarian state, a police state,” he said.

“I went to the university to see if I could calm down the students and the police, but the police said, ‘We’re just following orders and instructions. We’ve been told we can’t allow the students to leave because we don’t know what their reasons are for the protest’".

Mr Juffa said he had heard reports one man had died in hospital, but there were conflicting reports.

“The media here are stating while students were shot and are in hospital, injured and wounded, no one has been killed, so there are conflicting reports about what has really happened,” he said.

The students have been protesting against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, who has refused to be questioned as part of an ongoing fraud investigation, for five weeks and were marching to Parliament to call for a vote of no confidence.

Mr Juffa said there was a growing feeling inside Papua New Guinea that Mr O’Neill had to step down.

“This is all happening because the prime minister refuses to go down to the police station and answer a few questions,” he said.

“And if he is innocent then he has nothing to worry about and if he is charged then he can go to the courts and it should only be the courts that find him innocent or guilty, not he himself declare that he is innocent.”

Posts on social media show a man being carried with what appears to be blood on his body.

Several thousand students had gathered on Wednesday morning to march to Parliament to raise their grievances with their MPs.

PNG Loop website is reporting police fired tear gas into the gathering of students and some were assaulted.

Before the shooting police allegedly stopped, six buses carrying students punctured their tyres and smashed the windows.

A major aid agency, which declined to be named as its report is preliminary, said it had information from the university clinic that at least 15 students were wounded, with four killed.

Mr Juffa said on Twitter that he had spoken directly with students at the protest.

"Informed that several were shot," he said, adding that the incident started with an argument between a metropolitan police superintendent and a student.

A spokesman for the prime minister's office told SBS World News a statement would be issued shortly.

Papua New Guinea's opposition made a fourth unsuccessful attempt this week to unseat O'Neill's government via a no confidence bid, gaining some support from members of the leader's own party.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has called for calm as details continue to emerge from Port Moresby.

"I anticipate when we have details from our high commission and from the AFP officers there, I will make a call to my counterpart in PNG," she told reporters.

"If people have been shot in this incident, it is a tragedy and we urge for calm, to deescalate tensions between the students and the police.

"We ask that the right to protest peacefully and lawfully be respected."

- with Reuters

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