A Glitch, a Furor

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Riots in Papua New Guinea’s two main cities sparked by the Pacific country’s worsening economic situation left over a dozen people dead by Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

A march at the parliament building in the capital Port Moresby Wednesday by police and other public officials protesting a decrease in their salaries spiraled into a riot that saw dozens of shops set aflame, looting, and damage to the building hosting the prime minister’s office, the New York Times reported.

Unrest spread to the archipelago’s second city, Lea, with at least 15 people reported dead and untold injuries Thursday morning.

The government employees, including police and defense personnel, were demonstrating against an apparent $100 cut in their paychecks. Prime Minister James Marape said it was due to a computer glitch and not a covert rise in taxes, assuring workers that the error would be corrected in the next paycheck.

During his statement, he acknowledged that the country was facing economic woes, including high youth unemployment and rising inflation. He also announced $22.2 million in new funding for educational programs.

The riots come at a delicate point for resource-rich Papua New Guinea: The country is caught in a tug-of-war between China and the United States vying for expanded influence in the Pacific region.

Marape recently signed a security agreement with Australia and the US but has also pursued economic deals with China – its largest trading partner.

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