A peaceful protest over a payroll “glitch” spilled into violence on the streets of Papua New Guinea’s capital, Port Moresby, leaving at least 16 dead.
How did public servants missing some pay turn so deadly?
How the riot started
On Wednesday, police were among those protesting after their fortnightly pay packets were short up to 300 Kina ($120), which is about half the salary of a junior employee.
Fears of a tax increase were refuted by the government, but tension spilled over. Supermarkets were among those looted.
Paul Barker, from the PNG Institute of National Affairs, said messages about rioting spread quickly on social media.
He said police withdrawing themselves from duty was also a “pretty extraordinary scenario.”
Maholopa Laveil, from the University of Papua New Guinea, told ABC News the unrest started at around 2pm yesterday, but it had calmed today.
“We saw a lot of chaos in the city (yesterday)… police driving around the city but not addressing any of the looting in the shops,” he said.
PNG’s Prime Minister James Marape said today that order still needed to be restored.
“Police were not at work yesterday in the city and people resorted to lawlessness, not all people, but in certain segments of our city,” he said.
What’s fuelling the violence?
Political tension, the rising cost of living, and people flooding to the capital and living in makeshift settlements, are all part of the mix.
Mr Barker said politics is in a “very hot state” right now, with a no-confidence vote in the PM possible in coming months.
“There’s a lot of rumours and stirring that is going on, leading up to a potential vote of no confidence,” he said.
“Law and order problems that used to be concentrated in a few provinces in the country have really escalated to many additional provinces, East New Britain, Milne Bay, Oro, provinces that were peaceful, have become conflict prone.”
He said the volatility has pushed people to the capital, and when they try to find a place to live, there isn’t much available.
“People end up being desperate and ending up in those settlements. And then the authorities come and bulldoze those settlements,” he said.
Mr Laveil said the situation “finally boiled over”, with people hurting from the increasing cost of living, plus rising wealth inequality.
“The PNG government has to address a lot of the … resentment plus economic pressures that a lot of people are feeling,” he said.
Mr Barker said another problem was the 1,300 government institutions not communicating well with each other.
“They tread on each other’s toes,” he said.
“We have some of the worst health services, lowest immunisation rates, et cetera, in the world.
What happens next?
There have already been two resignations from MPs in the current government, Keith Iduhu and James Nomane.
Mr Iduhu said the sense of fear and terror yesterday “should never be experienced in a democracy.”
“I have made a decision to resign based on my own sense of disappointment in the prime minister and senior ministers, who showed no leadership throughout the chaos,” he said.
And the window of opportunity for a no-confidence vote in the PM is about to open.
In PNG, there can’t be such a vote in the first 18 months after an election — but Mr Marape’s grace period is about to expire next month.
Mr Barker said regardless of this week’s riots, Mr Marape is still a “very astute and practiced political operator”.
“The thing is, who are the alternatives? Many would like a clean sweep, for example a leader from another region than where Marape and (former PM Peter) O’Neill are from, but who?”
Mr Laveil said security agreements like the $200 million pact Australia has recently signed with the nation were important, and this week’s events emphasised that.
“Things can escalate when you remove that police and defence presence from the city,” he said.