CANBERRA, Australia – Police have shot students protesting against Papua New Guinea’s prime minister in the South Pacific nation’s capital of Port Moresby on Wednesday, Australia’s foreign minister said.
Julie Bishop said she had been advised by Australia’s embassy in Port Moresby of the violence as hundreds of students prepared to march from the University of PNG to Parliament.
“I know that students have been shot, but we’re still trying to determine whether there have been deaths and how many have been injured,” Bishop told reporters. “We call on all sides to be calm and to de-escalate the tension and certainly call on all sides to respect the peaceful and lawful right to protest.”
The students have been demanding for weeks that Prime Minister Peter O’Neill resign because of alleged corruption and mismanagement.
Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported a lawmaker told Parliament that four students had been killed and seven wounded.
Lawmaker Gary Juffa spoke to students after the shooting and was told “one of the students got killed instantly and others are in serious and critical conditions,” his personal assistant Joe Duhube told AP.
There were also complaints of other forms of police brutality against the students at a police roadblock erected outside the university.
Waliagai Olewale, a reporter at the local National Broadcasting Corp., said armed police in 20 vehicles clashed with hundreds of students. Most of the students were eventually chased back on to the campus late in the morning, she said.
Olewale could not confirm that anyone was shot.
“There was a lot of force that was used on students,” she told AP. “Students were pushed and shoved, they were beaten up, there were gunshots.”
She said National Broadcasting Corp. reporter Rose Amos had lodged an official complaint saying she had been assaulted by police while reporting the clash.
“She was physically assaulted, she was punched in the stomach, thrown to the ground by police,” Olewale said.
Student Gerald Peni told ABC that police “fired shots directly at the crowd.”
“They fired tear gas. I was right in front and many of the students, they fell, they got injured,” Peni said.
Police spokesman Domonic Kakas said he could not immediately comment and would issue a statement later Wednesday.
Staff at Port Moresby General Hospital declined to comment.