Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape declared a state of emergency in Port Moresby. The decision came in response to worsening violence and rioting sparked by a protest over pay by police and public sector workers earlier this week.

The state of emergency is effective for 14 days. It followed Wednesday’s demonstration that resulted in at least 16 reported deaths. The protest initially centred on a reported pay cut and quickly developed into looting, burning buildings, and an attempt to breach the gates of the prime minister’s office.

The city, under heavy military and police presence, is described as returning to a “new normal” on Friday morning. Over 1,000 soldiers have been put on standby, and several officials, including the finance secretary and police commissioner, have been suspended as part of the emergency measures.

Long lines were observed at petrol stations as citizens faced fuel shortages. Supermarkets reopened under heightened security and aimed to manage potential large crowds. Matt Cannon, head of the local St John Ambulance, expressed hope for a return to normalcy but acknowledged the necessity of increased security measures.

Former Prime Minister Peter O’Neill called Friday the darkest day in the country’s history and urged Prime Minister Marape to take responsibility for the situation, citing a loss of command and control. Calls for Marape’s resignation also developed with criticisms of his crisis-handling.

The rioting resulted in nine deaths in the capital city and seven in Lae, with casualties including individuals reportedly shot by a business owner in a suburb of Port Moresby. Port Moresby General Hospital reported treating over 50 individuals for injuries, including gunshot and knife wounds. Australia’s Defence Minister, Richard Marles, reported improvements in the situation on Friday, stating that Papua New Guinea had issued requests for assistance. However, Marape clarified that the state of emergency did not imply the involvement of suspended officials in the issues of concern.