The prime minister of Papua New Guinea on Thursday declared a two-week state of emergency in the capital, Port Moresby, and suspended the Pacific island nation’s chief of police after violent protests left the city shellshocked.
The unrest began on Wednesday after police, defense officers and other public servants appeared to walk off their jobs to protest what they said was an unexpected pay cut. The government blamed the error on a computer glitch and promised to fix the problem, but the situation in Port Moresby devolved quickly.
More than a dozen stores were set on fire, and there were reports of widespread looting as the unrest lasted into the night. There were also reports of fatalities in Port Moresby, the capital, and in Lae, the nation’s second-largest city, but the authorities did not release any official figures.
The violence came amid the backdrop of high unemployment and a rising cost of living in the country of about 10 million people.
About 1,000 special forces troops were on standby to prevent further unrest, Prime Minister James Marape said during a news conference on Thursday, as he announced an investigation into the crisis. In addition to David Manning, the commissioner of police, Mr. Marape also suspended the heads of the government’s finance, treasury and personnel management departments.
There were signs that the authorities had been able to regain some control, with the U.S. Embassy in Port Moresby saying in a statement on Thursday that the police and defense forces had returned to work. “However,” it added, “tensions remain high — the relative calm can change at a moment’s notice.”
Mr. Marape, who has pushed for closer ties with the United States and Australia, while also maintaining economic links with China, suggested the unrest had been orchestrated by his political opponents.
“You want to change the government, change it on the floor of the Parliament,” he said. “Not using my people to create lawlessness and recklessness.”