PNG protests spread to the provinces

7:32 am on 28 May 2016

Protests against Papua New Guinea's prime minister are spreading around the country.

The protests have been given impetus through a national awareness campaign by university students calling for Peter O'Neill to stand aside to face questioning over an alleged fraud case.

Papua New Guineans at a rally.

Papua New Guineans at a rally. Photo: RNZI / Johnny Blades

About five thousand students at the University of PNG in Port Moresby have been boycotting classes for a month.

The protest has seen them pitted against not just the government but also the UPNG management, in a stand-off they appear unlikely to back down from.

Students at PNG's next biggest tertiary institution, the University of Technology in Lae, have also held protests, although without hassles from the management of their institution.

In the last week, groups of students from both institutions have travelled back to the provinces from PNG's main cities to raise awareness about the issues they are protesting about.

In Madang province on the north coast, university students held a large rally in Madang town which observers noted were well-conducted and peaceful.

There were similar mobilisations in most provincial capitals in PNG's Highlands region over recent days.

Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill.

Papua New Guinea prime minister Peter O'Neill. Photo: PNG Blogs

In Mt Hagen, one student leader warned locals that the prime minister's refusal to be questioned over the fraud case was setting a dangerous precedent.

"If the prime minister is trying to go above the law, then the parliamentarians, the members who are under the arms of the prime minister they will try to go above the law," he told the crowd.

"And then the chain of reaction will come even to the grassroots level. Then there'll be a lawless society."

Hundreds of citizens in Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands, and Enga provinces have come out in support of the students' call for Mr O'Neill to resign.

In another Highlands province, Simbu, around six thousand people attended a forum discussing concerns that the prime minister has been obfuscating efforts to probe high level fraud.

Papua New Guinea's busy Highlands Highway.

Papua New Guinea's busy Highlands Highway. Photo: RNZ / Johnny Blades

Social media reports have emerged indicating that protestors could conduct blockages of PNG's premier road, the Highlands Highway, if the prime minister doesn't step down.

Responding to university students' demands for his resignation, Peter O'Neill earlier this week indicated he had no intention of standing down, arguing that matters being raised in the protests are still before the courts.