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Saturday 30 August  

Papua New Guinea crisis moves closer to resolution

Published on 20 December 2011 - 6:43am
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A political crisis in Papua New Guinea appeared closer to an end Tuesday with the governor general admitting he was wrong to reinstate Sir Michael Somare as prime minister last week.

The Pacific nation was thrown into a constitutional crisis when the Supreme Court reinstated Somare, 75, as leader and ruled the election of Peter O'Neill to the post by fellow lawmakers in August was unconstitutional.

Governor General Michael Ogio, the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, the Commonwealth country's head of state, backed Somare, who was replaced while out of the country recovering from illness, and swore him in as prime minister.

This saw O'Neill, 46, suspend Ogio and appoint parliamentary speaker Jeffrey Nape as acting governor general in a tense standoff.

Ogio has now admitted he was wrong in a letter to Nape in which he said he received flawed advice, his official secretary told AFP.

"As representative of the queen and head of state, I have reconsidered my earlier decision based on advice given me," the letter said.

"Upon receipt of credible advice of late, I now recognise the O'Neill group as the legitimate government."

Parliament has rescinded its decision to suspend Ogio who called for "reconciliation to take place on the floor of parliament and for the business of the nation to resume".

Somare, who has dominated the nation's political scene for close to half a century but has now also lost support from the nation's civil service, remained defiant.

"The Supreme Court has taken that decision and installed my government back in the office," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"(The) Supreme Court has taken its decision... and we are just trying to get our politics sorted out here."

But O'Neill said normality had returned and he had control of the country, while Somare had no mandate to rule and lacked the numbers to challenge him successfully in parliament.

"He (Somare) does not have the public support, he does not have parliament's support and certainly he does not have the business community and international communities' support. He needs to retire gracefully," O'Neill told the ABC.

O'Neill said he was making legislative changes to ensure clear provisions were in place should a prime minister fall ill and also so that a person could not continue as leader after 72, the retirement age for judges in PNG.

The impoverished island nation -- home to around 800 languages -- is no stranger to political upheaval. It was described by Australian diplomats as a "totally dysfunctional blob" according to a memo released by WikiLeaks.

The rugged country stands on the threshold of a major resources boom due to its major gas reserves, but the nation of some 6.6 million remains mired in poverty.

© ANP/AFP

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