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PNG crisis over leadership dispute

Papua New Guinea's government has been plunged into crisis after veteran leader Sir Michael Somare claimed to have been reinstated as prime minister while ousted premier Peter O'Neill refused to give up power despite a court order.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled Mr O'Neill's election by parliament in August - while Mr Somare was out of the country - was unconstitutional, and said 76-year-old Mr Somare should be reinstated as prime minister.

The battle between the two rivals escalated on Tuesday when MPs backing Mr O'Neill stormed the governor-general's gates.

Mr Somare said in a statement that his cabinet had been sworn in by Governor-General Sir Michael Ogio, who represents the Queen - the South Pacific nation's head of state.

Mr Somare insisted he did not need to be sworn in himself because the Supreme Court had already reinstated him as prime minister. "It is regretful that all of government was put on hold, but this situation has been diffused by the swearing-in today of my cabinet," Mr Somare said in a statement.

But the crisis appears to be far from over as MPs loyal to Mr O'Neill passed a motion ordering Mr Ogio to swear in Mr O'Neill as prime minister.

On Tuesday, Mr O'Neill said he met Mr Ogio briefly after about 60 of his MPs stormed through a police cordon around Mr Ogio's official residence in the capital, Port Moresby. "We are unarmed and we're the legitimate government," Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio quoted the MPs as telling police.

Mr O'Neill said Mr Ogio told him he would meet Mr Somare on Wednesday and then decide how to resolve the crisis.

The Supreme Court's 3-2 decision on Monday ruling Mr O'Neill's election unconstitutional came after his government passed a series of retroactive laws legalising its decision to dump Mr Somare from office while he was in Singapore recovering from a heart condition.

One of his first acts when the Supreme Court ordered his return to power was to reinstate former Police Commissioner Fred Yakasa and oust Mr O'Neill's appointee, Tom Kulunga. Both police chiefs were present at the governor-general's home and held discussions with MPs loyal to Mr O'Neill.


From Belfast Telegraph