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NBC journalist, Priscilla Waikaidi reports: Police hit and run triggers protests in Alotau

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Two girls, aged 5 and 7 are among three people  killed after  a landcruiser, driven by a sea patrol police unit officers from Lae drove into a group of people in Alotau.

Dr Perista Mamadi, of the Alotau Hospital confirmed at  5pm yesterday  that  the third person is  a 30-year-old woman who died from head injuries. 

Acting Provincial Police Commander, Chief Inspector George Bayagau, said the vehicle was heading into town at about 11am yesterday when they veered off the road at Kwaini outside Alotau and ran into the five people.

Two others who are fighting for their lives have been to the operating theatre and are under strict observation nursing severe head injuries  including a 22-year-old and another 25-year-old woman.

In an emotional appeal, Kevin Ray,  grandfather of the youngest  who died, called for their demands to be addressed. Paramount is the proper funeral and burial for his bubu and niece from Gadaisu. We understand there are other demands from other victim’s families for things like compensation, the necessary work to take to trial and the imprisonment of the Police driver, the removal of the unit from Alotau among a few other demands- this will be via negotiations to rid a roadblock extending from Raven Estates through to Kwaini setup today, community there adamant it will remain until they are satisfied that they’re demands are met.

Ray says “My niece had taken my granddaughter to get her polio vaccination drops and they we’re heading back home when this senseless crime happened, they are now both dead. And by Police whom we look to for security and safety. They must pay for their actions, no one is above the law. It was criminal how they left them there”, before he broke down and wept openly for his loss.

A protest march into town at lunchtime today by disgruntled community was dispersed by warning shots into the air by police, Bayagau confirms this was only ordered after the crowd refused to heed his ask for them to speak with him. 

“I had asked them to stop at Sanderson Bay for them to speak with me, but they kept moving on into town. The fear here is that while this march is genuine, opportunists were among them and taking advantage of the situation to incite violence. We were concerned things could escalate into a similar rampage through town like last year, thus the use of force to turn them back. I’m open to speaking with them and will again receive them when they return tomorrow for proper negotiations to take place towards making grounds with focus on justice being served, and addressing a way forward”. He expressed his deepest condolences for the loss of these innocent lives, adding the driver of the vehicle has been arrested and is in custody, the vehicle impounded, and investigations have begun into this matter.

A second attempt protest march into Alotau late this afternoon also met the same stop, although this time sources report there were gunshots fired by civilians hiding in nearby bushes and backing the protesters, shots were fired showing Police their disdain which saw organizers of the march opting to go back to Kwaini. We are hearing they will regroup for tomorrow again.

From Port Moresby, DPM and Alotau MP Charles Abel who flew out today, also posted, “Another unnecessary tragedy in Alotau by vehicle accident. 3 lives lost. Anger is there but we need to stop and deal with the matter else other innocent people are affected. I’m back in Pom for Parl sitting tomorrow and will return early to Alotau.” He sent his condolences to families of the innocent lives lost, during his address at the NBC Press Club presentation tonight.

Alotau remains tense, families seen departing the town area to elsewhere outside to keep safe, the Sanderson Bay Transit house is filled  to capacity with  stranded passengers. An earlier blackout, a   result of the protest, has been rectified and people  are staying indoors to avoid what could come tomorrow. 

This isn’t the first time such has happened, around 2016 an elderly woman from Waema was hit by a speeding Police vehicle while walking on the side of the road, she was killed instantly.

More details are coming in on this developing story.

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