Expats and tourists flee violent protests in Papua New Guinea

Published:  9 Jun at 6 PM
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Expats and visitors to Papua New Guinea’s capital and major cities found themselves trapped in escalating violence after police fired on a student protest.

Yesterday’s demonstration against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and his government turned violent when police began firing on students, severely wounding dozens. Tear gas and shots turned the capital’s streets into mayhem as locals, expats and tourists headed for any available shelter from the bullets.

Amid fears of payback violence by armed local mafia groups, the riots spread swiftly to the island’s secondary cities, with a Virgin Australia flight from Brisbane to the capital Port Moresby turned around and another Quantas flight cancelled. By nightfall, the capital was in gridlock with tourists, expats and locals hiding in their homes and hotels.

Expat documentary maker Andrew Johnson, resident on the island for 28 years, told reporters he’d retreated to his house after he’d seen the father of a wounded student telling an angry crowd he would decapitate the PM. Executive director of the Papua New Guinea Chamber of Mines and Petroleum Greg Anderson believes the situation can only get worse due to the island’s culture of payback spiralling out of control.

As darkness fell in the capital, police warned of houses and university buildings being set on fire and vehicles being damaged by rioters. Expats working in the tourism industry voiced their concerns about the effect of the violence on their businesses, and visitors were advised by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to avoid public places and large crowds.

Mostly undeveloped, Papua New Guinea lies to the north of Australia and is home to around seven million tribal people, most of whom still practice traditional beliefs and customs. The system of retribution for harm caused to any tribal member is still in place, and is the reason for residents’ fears of payback on behalf of those who were wounded during the riots.
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