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Street rebellion in Papua New Guinea

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Issue 1756

Anti-capitalist protests in South East Asia

Street rebellion in Papua New Guinea

Report from members of Melsol Worker, Socialist Worker’s sister organisation in Papua New Guinea

THREE UNIVERSITY of Papua New Guinea students are dead and several are in a critical condition. Some have disappeared into police custody. The students were part of a five-day blockade of government buildings in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, in protest against World Bank inspired plans.

They were fighting against the privatisation of national assets like the PNG Banking Corporation and Air Niugini. They wanted the International Monetary Fund and World Bank expelled from the country, and the government to cease all borrowings from the bank. The students demanded the resignation of the government if this did not happen. After local police refused to disperse them, prime minister Morauta flew in the riot police from their usual job of protecting the US and Canadian owned oil, gas and gold resources.

The student blockade was part of the general action sweeping the country for the last year. Workers at the PNG Banking Corporation started their all-out strike at the same time as the student blockade.

The union won concessions after three days and went back to work. “The police ordered us to leave or they would teargas us. There were several hundred of us and we sat in complete silence,” says Jerry, who was at the blockade. “The police refused their commander’s instruction to shoot at us. The next day our numbers grew till there were at least 5,000 of us. Whole families came to join us and so did many workers. A full busload of soldiers came, sat with us and shared their lunch with us. The prime minister finally came and accepted our petition. He told us he would answer us the next day. Only about 100 of us decided to stay put. At about 11.30pm the police told us to leave. When we refused they started shooting teargas. We fled, and they followed us into the university and broke down the gates. They attacked students, including many who were sleeping in their rooms. They shot thousands of rounds from their rifles.”

In response to the tear-gassing and murder of students, Port Moresby youth attacked and looted shops in every part of the city. In the areas around the university, where students had fled to and woke the people up, the fighting was close to a full-on rebellion. The fast food outlet Big Rooster was burned down.

In the area around the government buildings the people burned the police station and four police houses down. The military, who we supported during their mutiny in March, support the anti-privatisation alliance.

About 120 soldiers came to the campus to show their respects to the dead students. In 1996 they protected our march and blockade of parliament when we forced the then prime minister Julius Chan to resign. In response to the shootings the Papua New Guinea Trade Union Congress called on unions to organise strikes. By the weekend the maritime workers’ union in the main ports of Moresby and Lae, telecom workers and air traffic controllers had stopped work.

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