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Papua New Guinea police open fire on protesting students
[SYDNEY] Police in Papua New Guinea opened fire on students protesting against the prime minister on Wednesday, with witnesses saying at least four people had been shot.
Students have been locked in a month-long standoff with authorities and have been boycotting classes as they demand Prime Minister Peter O'Neill step aside over corruption allegations.
Witnesses said the clashes broke out in the capital Port Moresby as students prepared to march from the University of PNG to parliament, where Mr O'Neill was due to face a no confidence vote.
Anti-corruption campaigner Noel Anjo Kolao, who helped organise the protest, said police had set up road blocks and pointed their guns at students.
"Then they started shooting at them," he told AFP by phone, saying that he saw several students were injured.
"We have two sets of laws in Papua New Guinea, one for the prime minister and one for ordinary citizens."
PNG broadcaster EMTV said on Twitter that four people had been shot, after earlier reporting that eight students were admitted to hospital, three in critical condition.
Australia's foreign minister confirmed that students had been shot, while Washington said the police had used tear gas against the protesters.
But Port Moresby Hospital's chief emergency physician Sam Yockopua denied reports in Australian media that four people had been killed.
"There were two with major injuries while the other two had minor problems. No deaths," he told the PNG Post Courier newspaper.
The hospital's emergency department told AFP it was not authorised to give details on patients. Police in Port Moresby did not have any immediate comment.
Mr O'Neill has been wanted for questioning by anti-corruption police for two years, but has refused to comply with a warrant for his arrest.
Police are investigating whether he authorised millions of dollars in illegal payments from the government to Paraka Lawyers, one of the Pacific nation's largest law firms.
When the arrest warrant was issued in 2014, Mr O'Neill sacked the PNG police commissioner, fired his attorney-general and suspended numerous other justice department and police officials.
He also disbanded the country's anti-corruption watchdog.
Mr O'Neil has denied the allegations, and last month published a lengthy letter responding to the students' concerns suggesting the accusations were politically motivated.
Both Canberra and Washington issued warnings on Wednesday, with the US embassy in Port Moresby saying: "The situation is still volatile and could escalate at any time."
Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop said her high commissioner in Port Moresby had confirmed that students had been shot.
"We call on all sides for calm to de-escalate the tensions and certainly call on all sides to respect the peaceful and lawful right to protest," she said.
Human Rights Watch deputy asia director Phil Robertson called for a full investigation.
"The police shooting of protesting students in Port Moresby is shocking, and a truly terrible incident for which all security officials responsible for using lethal force unnecessarily need to be brought to justice," he said.
"Prime Minister Peter O'Neill should immediately launch an impartial, thorough and transparent investigation."