New Laws spark protest

PAPUA New Guinea's prime minister will address the nation tomorrow to explain a law giving him controversial new powers. 
 
The government of Peter O'Neill has passed new laws giving it the power to suspend judges, prompting thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets in Port Moresby.
The demonstrators converged on the entrance to the University of Papua New Guinea before marching to the rear of government offices to hand the prime minister a petition against the Judicial Conduct Act 2012, which passed parliament on Wednesday.

The protesters initially demanded to meet with Mr O'Neill or his deputy Belden Namah, but were instead met behind the government offices by Manasupe Zurenuoc, chief secretary of government.
"Tune in to your radios and (TV) stations at 7 o'clock Sunday. The Prime Minister Peter O'Neill will address the country on the issues that you are raising, the issue of the judicial conduct bill," he told the crowd.

"My friends, the issues you are raising are no different from those throughout the country. Your government is appreciative of what you are raising, we understand where you are coming from. The government will look at your petition, we will look at all the petitions."
University of PNG student president Dicky Lao told the crowd the government's decision to pass the law was wrong.

"The law is not in the best interest of the common good of our people," he said.
"We, the student body of Papua New Guinea, are of the view that the (purpose) of the controversial bill is to assert power of the executive arm, the legislature, at the expense of the judiciary."
Opposition to the bill - which is widely seen as an escalation in the government's battle to unseat Chief Justice Sir Salamo Injia - has been mounting since it was rushed through parliament this week.
Australian-born opposition Leader Dame Carol Kidu has condemned the bill and the rushed manner in which it has passed, while former Chief Justice and Attorney General Sir Arnold Amet has appealed for international intervention.

Former prime minister Sir Michael Somare has added his voice to criticism of the law, saying in a statement he believes the government will now mount a campaign against electoral commissioner Andrew Trawen in an effort to stall the June 2012 election.
"These members of parliament have shown how they will wield power and the judiciary is only the beginning. I believe shortly they will turn their attention on the Office of the Electoral Commission.
"I therefore urge them to stop interfering with the court process by making unconstitutional retrospective legislation. You cannot right a wrong using your numerical strength in parliament.
"They bring great shame to our democracy by their constant menace and meddling with the independence of the judiciary."

Mr O'Neill has made numerous public statements that he wants a "full, free and fair" election, and Mr Trawen has released a schedule for the poll with writs issued on April 27.
The government had tried several times to remove Sir Salamo from overseeing the 2011 constitutional battle over who was PNG's rightful prime minister, Sir Michael or Mr O'Neill.
After losing the case, the O'Neill government used its numerical superiority in parliament to pass a series of laws legalising its decision to dump Sir Michael on August 2.
It has since tried and failed numerous times to suspend the chief justice, citing a 2009 complaint about his handling of a dead judge's estate.
Sir Salamo was arrested and charged with perverting the course of justice two weeks ago, but the court issued a permanent stay on the case, calling the police investigation an abuse of process.


AFP

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