CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Police in Papua New Guinea shot dead a young mother at a polling station in the capital, Port Moresby, in the latest violence to mar a national election, according to a news report Friday.
Homicide detectives were investigating the fatal shooting, which occurred Monday, a police statement said.
Annaisha Max, 22, was holding her 1-year-old son when he was shot, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing witnesses.
“They (police) came with force, excessive force. It was not provoked,” Emmanuel Kiangu, a community leader who was at the scene, told ABC.
The police did not realize they would open fire, according to Max’s friend, Anna Koip.
“They didn’t even say a word. They switched their weapons to automatics and fired into the crowd, where many of us were waiting to vote,” Koip said through a translator.
Since voting began on July 4, fights have broken out between rival groups over accusations of vote-rigging.
Prime Minister James Marape has apologized to thousands of people who have been turned away from polling stations because of problems with the electoral roll.
The crowd on Monday reportedly became agitated after waiting hours for voting to begin. A group gathered around the police cars asking where the ballot boxes were. Police called for backup before the shooting began, ABC said.
Metropolitan Superintendent of Police Gideon Ikumu said in a statement Tuesday that police reinforcements were sent to “restore order when a rowdy and rowdy crowd threatened to harm election officials and disrupted voting.”
“Stones were thrown at the police and shots were fired to disperse the unruly crowd,” Ikumu added.
Ikumu said he had personally assured angry residents after Max’s death that a police investigation “would establish how the victim was killed and who was responsible for his death.”
“Homicide detectives are now collecting evidence, including video footage and statements from potential witnesses,” Ikumu said.
Max died in an electorate where voting had been delayed three times.
Peter Aitsi, Papua New Guinea’s representative for Transparency International, a global movement to end corruption, said the elections risked failure.
“Unfortunately, it has not been a successful, peaceful and safe election,” Aitis said. “But I encourage all stakeholders, particularly the candidates and their supporters, to support the process, try to conclude the election as best we can.”
Voting takes weeks and the composition of the new government, with more than 50 parties competing for 118 seats, will not be known until the next session of Parliament in August.
The main candidates to lead the new government are Marape and his predecessor, Peter O’Neill, who resigned in 2019.
Since Papua New Guinea’s independence from Australia in 1975, elections in the nation of 9 million have been marred by violence, fraud and bribery.
At the beginning of the voting, the police urged citizens not to sell their votes to any of the 3,625 candidates competing for the elections. Candidates in Papua New Guinea routinely pay poor voters to vote for them.
Papua New Guinea is a diverse tribal society of mostly subsistence farmers with more than 800 languages.
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