At least 15 dead as rioting and looting spreads across Papua New Guinea capital amid protests on pay cut

US embassy in Port Moreby says shots were fire near compound as China lodges protest

Shweta Sharma
Thursday 11 January 2024 06:35 GMT
Papua New Guinea: Riots, Looting Erupt In Port Moresby Following Payroll Glitch

At least 15 people have been killed in widespread looting and arson in Papua New Guinea after police protests turned ugly and the military had to be deployed to restore calm.

Chaos spread across capital Port Moresby on Wednesday as thousands of police officials and public sector workers took to the streets to protest pay cuts.

The protests descended into lawlessness as enraged people set fire to shops and cars while supermarkets and stores were looted.

Prime minister James Marape appealed for calm and warned that “lawlessness” would not be tolerated.

"Police were not at work yesterday in the city and people resorted to lawlessness, not all people, but in certain segments of our city," he told a news conference on Thursday.

"Breaking the law does not achieve certain outcomes," he added.

China lodged a protest with the Papua New Guinea (PNG) authorities after several businesses by Chinese owners came under attack in Port Moresby and demanded immediate measures for the safety of its nations, the Chinese embassy in Papua New Guinea said.

This image made from video shows a protest in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (AP)

Eight people were killed in riots in the capital Port Moresby while a further seven were killed in Lae, in the country’s north, the ABC reported, citing an update from police.

Several were injured, including two Chinese nationals.

TV footage showed a massive fire erupting from a warehouse in the capital’s Gerehu area as roads came to a standstill with many protesters out on the streets. Many were seen breaking into stores and running with cardboard boxes and other looted merchandise.

The United States Embassy said shots had been fired near its building and urged its employees to shelter in place.

Demonstrators also tried to enter the prime minister’s office and damaged the entrance to the building.

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese said the country’s high commission was monitoring the situation, and Canberra had not received any requests for help from Papua New Guinea, which it regularly supports in policing and security.

“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.”

People gather near a building, amid reports of widespread looting and arson as police and the public sector protest over a pay cut that officials blamed on an administrative glitch, in Port Moresby (MACKENZIE WAIDE via REUTERS)

The capital city of around 400,000 people remained on the edge as police and public sector workers protested what they said was a smaller paycheck. The officials blamed the paycuts on an administrative glitch.

Mr Marape acknowledged an extra $100 had been deducted from the paychecks of public servants and said it was due to a computer glitch and added that the government has not raised taxes as claimed by the protesters.

Aerial view shows a burning building amid protests over a pay cut for police that officials blamed on an administrative glitch, in Port Moresby (Femli Studio via REUTERS)

“Social media picked up on this wrong information, misinformation,” Mr Marape said, adding that many people took advantage of police walking off their duty. “We are not raising taxes.”

He said the paycuts will be adjusted in the next paycheck but said there were other issues in the country and said he had announced 83 million kina ($22.2m) in new funding for educational programs.

“This is a larger economic problem we have with high youth unemployment and soaring inflation costs,” he said.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in