Papua New Guinea leader steps down amid political turmoil | News | DW | 26.05.2019
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Papua New Guinea leader steps down amid political turmoil

Prime Minister Peter O'Neill's resignation follows weeks of high-profile defections from the ruling coalition to the opposition. The premier was also in hot water over a gas deal with French petroleum company Total.

Papua New Guinea's prime minister, Peter O'Neill, tendered his resignation on Sunday, handing over the reins to Julius Chan, a former prime minister. O'Neill had been the South Pacific nation's leader since 2011.

The outgoing prime minster told a press conference in the capital, Port Moresby, that recent ruling coalition defections in Parliament showed there was "a need for change."

Read more: Electoral fraud claims disrupt Papua New Guinea elections

A stream of high-profile lawmakers have defected to the opposition bloc in the past few weeks, compromising O'Neill's parliamentary majority. A no confidence vote against O'Neill was set to be held on Tuesday.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked O'Neill for his services: "I will look forward to working with the new prime minister of PNG (Papua New Guinea) in the same way I have enjoyed such a strong friendship and relationship with Peter O'Neill," he told reporters in Canberra.

Read more: Australia to spend billions to counter China in Pacific islands

Watch video 01:26

Security personnel storm Papua New Guinea's Parliament

Economic woes

Papua New Guinea, a resource-rich but poverty-stricken nation, has been facing political turmoil for years. There had been several attempts to oust O'Neill from power in the past.

The outgoing prime minister was criticized by the opposition for his handling of a prospective $13 billion (€11.6 billion) plan to double the country's liquefied national gas exports through the French energy giant Total.

Opposition politicians said Friday they would also push for an investigation in Australia and Switzerland over a $830.76 million (AU$1.2 billion) loan arranged by finance group UBS, according to The Australian Financial Review newspaper. A government report about the 2014 deal that allowed Papua New Guinea to borrow money from UBS to buy a 10% stake in the Australian Stock Exchange-listed energy firm Oil Search is set to be presented in Parliament next week. Oil Search in turn used the money to buy the Elk Antelope gas field, which is being developed by Total.

The country has reportedly lost 1 billion kina ($287 million) on the UBS deal after being forced to sell the shares when the price fell in 2017.

O'Neill's resignation will formally be approved by Governor-General Bob Dadae, the official representative of Queen Elizabeth II in Papua New Guinea.

Papua New Guinea, located north of Australia, established its sovereignty in 1975 after being ruled by three external powers since 1884. This followed nearly 60 years of Australian administration, which started during World War I. The country is also a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Read more: Papua New Guinea to begin forcibly removing Manus Island asylum-seekers 

Watch video 01:40

China expands its influence in Papua New Guinea

shs/jlw (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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