Off-duty police and soldiers storm Papua New Guinea's parliament to demand Apec summit pay

'They entered the parliament and just smashed everything up. They were taking their frustration out on the furniture'

Adam Withnall
Tuesday 20 November 2018 13:57
Aftermath of off-duty police & soldiers attack on Papua New Guinea's parliament to demand APEC summit pay

Around 100 off-duty members of Papua New Guinea’s police and armed forces smashed through parliament security and stormed the building in a dispute over pay for working at an international summit hosted by the country at the weekend.

The annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit was attended by China’s president Xi Jinping, Japan’s Shinzo Abe and the US vice president Mike Pence, and concluded on Sunday.

Yet less than 48 hours later, disgruntled police officers, prison guards and military personnel who had helped provide additional security for the summit said they had not been paid their promised allowances, and marched to parliament in protest.

Paul Kramer, an opposition politician, posted images and videos to Facebook showing the damage caused to the security checkpoint at the front entrance, as well as to a seemingly random selection of pictures, potted plants, windows and furniture throughout the building.

He said the main “confrontation” had taken place when the protesters entered parliament, and parliamentary security officers tried and failed to stop them.

“It erupted into a scuffle, several staff were assaulted as they made their way into Parliament,” Mr Kramer said. He added that he did not believe anyone was seriously injured.

“They entered the parliament and just smashed everything up,” opposition parliamentarian Allan Bird told the Reuters news agency. “It was the armed forces, police and correctional workers.

“They were yelling: 'Corrupt government, bloody government' and so on. They were taking their frustration out on the furniture," he said. "They dispersed eventually but we are hearing more are mobilising.”

The protesters had met earlier with the police minister and police commissioner, Mr Kramer said. When that meeting concluded, presumably unsuccessfully, “they then convoyed to and stormed Parliament House”. “While we were in our opposition meeting, they started to destroy property throughout parliament,” he said. “The situation is quite tense.”

The attack lasted for around 30 minutes, after which the protesters moved outside the building, demanding to speak to the government. They eventually left the area.

Working police eventually restored order at parliament and escorted politicians safely from the premises. But during the incident, there were reports of looting elsewhere in the capital, Port Moresby, as thieves took advantage of the chaos.

Papua New Guinea’s hosting of the Apec summit raised a number of concerns, not least due to the fragile security situation. Port Moresby is described by the World Bank as one of the most violent cities in the world, due to high unemployment and brazen criminal gangs known as "raskols".

There was also criticism of the public expenditure required to host such a gathering of world leaders. Preparations included the £15m construction of a new VIP terminal for the capital’s airport, and the purchase of 40 Maserati cars to transport leaders around the island.

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"I think the money should have been used to fix our backyard instead of decorating the front porch. We have health, education and infrastructure deficiencies that need to be addressed," activist and writer Martyn Namorong told the Associated Press before the summit.

“A lot of people are [staying] indoors,” said Santee Margis, a unionist who represents electricity workers living just outside the city centre, and described offices locking down and shops shutting.

“Many people are mad about Apec, even though the government had made assurances, that it's not been of benefit to the little people.”

In a statement, Apec chief executive Chris Hawkins said it was typical for security personnel to receive payment a week after a major event.

“The meeting ended two days ago and the security operation is now winding down,” he said, according to Australia’s ABC. “The payment of individual allowances has already commenced and individual security force members should check with their banks as payments are made.”

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