16 Jun 2015

Nauru opposition MP arrested after mass protest

7:15 pm on 16 June 2015

Nauru's government has dubbed today's protest at the island's parliament a 'riot', and accused suspended opposition MPs of spearheading it.

Crowds gather in Nauru

Crowds gather in Nauru Photo: supplied/ Shane Bazzi

In a statement, the government said the protesters vandalised the parliament, smashing windows and letting off fireworks inside. Today's scheduled sitting was adjourned as a result

Reports from the island estimate that more than 300 people were involved in today's protests, in support of five MPs who have been suspended from parliament for more than a year, ostensibly for speaking out against the government's actions.

However, the Justice Minister, David Adeang, said the protest was violent and ugly: "What witnessed this morning was nothing short of a disgrace and totally against Nauru law which is to protect its citizens."

The government said ten police officers were injured and needed hospital treatment after they were pelted with rocks.

It also confirmed reports that one of the suspended opposition MPs, Mathew Batsiua, was arrested on a charge of disrupting the legislature, having been accused of leading the protests. Two other suspended MPs, Sprent Dabwido and Squire Jeremiah, were also present in what the government called an act of lawlessness that brought "shame and embarassment" on the Opposition.

A source on the island said the government had tried to ban the suspended MPs from taking part in any protest.

In recent weeks, the government has passed a number of laws that have been criticised internationally for limiting freedom of speech and the right to protest.

It has also banned Facebook, which opponents say is attempt to stop criticism of what are controversial and unscrutinised actions.

As well there are allegations in Australian media reports that David Adeang has received huge payments from an Australian phosphate buyer.

Meanwhile, sources on Nauru have accused the police of setting up Mathew Batsiua's arrest.

Eyewitnesses who were at the protest have said Mr Batsiua was informed by the police that he would be able to meet with the President, Baron Waqa.

However, they claim that when he stepped through the police line, he was arrested from behind as he set foot in parliament, where he is banned from entering as a result of his suspension.

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