Papua New Guinea Police Officers Open Fire On Student Protest, Four Reportedly Killed [UPDATE]

Police officers in Papua New Guinea have reportedly opened fire on University of Papua New Guinea students who were marching on parliament in protest against Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.

Unrest in Papua New Guinea hit a boiling point on Wednesday when at least 1,000 students from the University of Papua New Guinea took to parliament in protest of the alleged corruption of Prime Minister O’Neill. Students have been protesting for weeks by boycotting classes and calling for O’Neill’s resignation after the government’s opposition attempted for a fourth time to unseat O’Neill via a no-confidence vote. The students planned their protest at parliament to show their support for this latest attempt.

According to local Papua New Guinea newspaper the Loop, students had tried for weeks to get police clearance in order to stage a peaceful protest, but never heard back. They decided to take their protest to parliament without clearance, and were immediately stopped from leaving campus on buses by police officers who allegedly slashed the bus tires, according to a student leader who spoke with the Loop.

“Today we tried to peacefully go over (to parliament) on buses but they would not allow the buses to go. But the students were adamant in going to the parliament, not to start an uprising or riot, but to peacefully show our grievances to our MPS.”

Students then tried walking out of the main gate at the University of Papua New Guinea, but were once again halted by police, who began firing tear gas into the crowd.

According to The Guardian, when the tear gas failed to stop the student protest, police officers opened fire into the crowd. Unconfirmed reports state that at least five students were injured, and one killed. Graphic images being shared across social media show a student covered in blood, and another of four men carrying a body. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that at least 10 students have been admitted to a Port Moresby hospital following the protest shooting, citing an unnamed major aid agency that said it had information that 15 students were injured in the shooting, and four killed. All reports are unconfirmed at the time of this writing.

Jonathan Pryke from the Lowy Institute for International Policy told SMH that aside from political corruption, the collapse of Papua New Guinea’s economy has also led to frustrations among students.

“They have now got themselves to a point where both sides have pushed themselves into a corner. I don’t see a scenario in which the students are going to back down unless Peter O’Neill meets them at the table and discusses their demands.”

Several media outlets have reached out to the Papua New Guinea police force for comment following the alleged shooting at a UPNG protest. A spokesman for the police force said that he was unable to confirm any reports of shootings, injuries, or deaths at this point.

Update: The Guardian reports that opposition MPs have told parliament officials that four students were killed during the police shooting, and another seven injured, however reports on the number of injuries and casualties are still unconfirmed.

Peter O’Neill, the subject of the UPNG protest — who has been accused of political corruption for, among other things, authorizing the payment of $30 million in fraudulent legal bills to the law firm Paul Paraka — has stated that there were no deaths in the police shooting, and that the shots fired were “warning shots” brought about by the actions of the students at the protest.

“A small group of students were violent, threw rocks at police and provoked a response that came in the form of tear gas and warning shots.”

O’Neill went on to say that the students will now have to “face the consequences,” and that the “blood of the injured students” was on the hands of those who supported their protest, rather than on the Papua New Guinea police officers who shot into a crowded student protest in the first place.

[Image via Handout/Getty Images]