AN estimated 5,000 people, including students and members of the public, gathered at the University of Papua New Guinea’s Waigani campus today to demand that prime minister Peter O’Neill step down and face corruption allegations against him.
Protesters said they were rallying as concerned citizens of Papua New Guinea. One woman took to the podium to thank students for helping secure a good future for her grandchildren.
Civil society organisations in Papua New Guinea are supporting protesters who say they will not be cowed by the massive police presence in Port Moresby.
The massive rally came after police commissioner Gary Baki banned protests in the city today and warned the public that anyone caught disturbing the peace would be arrested and charged.
One made said that Peter O’Neill must “respect the cry of the eight million people of PNG.
“That [prime minister’s] office belongs to the people of PNG,” he said. “If they want it back, give it back. It doesn’t belong to your mother, father or grandfather.”
UPNG students’ representative council member Hercules Jim said, “This is a black Thursday,” and the crowd awaited a government delegation that was expected to receive a petition.
Radio New Zealand International quoted the president of the People's Power Movement, Noel Anjo, as saying that police had misunderstood and overreacted to a stop work notice from the PNG Coalition of Unions.
Mr Anjo said protestors would not be intimidated by an excessive show of force from police.
"The students and unions and civil society are teaming up and we will not give up," he said.
Students at UPNG are also considering legal action against the university administration for suppressing their democratic right to freedom of expression and assembly.
Arthur Amos, vice president of the students’ representative council, said the presence of more than 40 police vehicles with heavily armed officers on campus was excessive and bordered on intimidation.
"Basically we want to get a court order to restrain the administration for suppressing the students for exercising their democratic rights," Mr Amos said, "and for allowing the police to come onto the campus because there is no violent, no intimidation, no fear.
"All the students are doing are exercising their democratic right not to attend class."
One commentator, Yakan Lepakali, told PNG Blogs he decried “the undisciplined behaviour of rogue men and women in blue uniform roaming the streets of Port Moresby and making entry into UPNG campus at will.
“Peter O’Neill’s continued act of obstinacy is a telling hallmark of dictatorship or autocratic ruler”.