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By Matt Burgess


SYDNEY, June 8 (Xinhua) -- Papua New Guinea's embattled prime minister has survived another move to oust him from office as police and anti-government protesters clash, spilling over into widespread rioting and looting in the nation's capital.


Political unrest has been brewing in the pacific nation for more than a month, led by students at the nation's two major universities, over the prime minister's handling of corruption allegations and economic mismanagement.


The students on Wednesday attempted to deliver a petition to the country's parliament calling for a vote of no confidence to be allowed on the single-chamber's floor, only to be stopped by heavily armed riot police at the entrance to the University of PNG's Waigani campus in Port Moresby. The riot police are usually deployed to subdue tribal unrest.


It's believed the police then opened fire on the students when they attempted to continue on foot, refusing to hand over the protest's organisers.


Australia's national broadcaster reported four people had been killed, and 10 more were injured. Various media reports suggest up to 20 students have been hospitalized, though officials are yet to confirm the number of causalities.


""It is once again a sad day in the history of this young democratic country when you see fully armed police in our higher learning institutions simply to shoot at unarmed students who are simply exercising their rights guaranteed under our constitution,"" Opposition Leader Don Polye told Xinhua in a statement.


PROTEST SPILLS TO CIVIL UNREST


Video on social media shows students fleeing police at the amid clouds of tear gas and the sounds of gunfire, while several pictures appear to show multiple protesters injured. Xinhua could not independently verify the contents.


Local media reports alleged the protest spilled into civil unrest with widespread looting, rioting and a standoff between protesters inside the Port Moresby general hospital and the police outside.


PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill disputed the claim the police acted first, instead accusing the county's political opposition and ""agitators"" provoking the police response.


""This protest and the factors that led to the incident today have been driven by people who are not students,"" O'Neill said in a statement, adding a full inquiry will be launched to into the unrest, which will also encompass the external funding sources of the month-long student protest.


""The blood of the injured students is on the hands of those members and their supporters,"" O'Neill said.


""The criminal elements involved in this incident will feel the full force of the law for their involvement in what has transpired.""


Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has called for both sides to de-escalate the tensions and to ""respect the peaceful and lawful right to protest.""


""We will be monitoring the situation closely,"" Bishop told reporters in Brisbane on Wednesday, adding she will be in contact with her PNG counterpart Rimbank Pato once details of the unrest are confirmed by Australian officials on the ground.


The Australian government, which routinely warns of high rates of crime and unrest in the former protectorate, updated it's travel advice saying there had been an ""unconfirmed number of deaths and serious injuries"", warning the unrest had spread to the port-city of Lae.


PM RESISTS ATTEMPTS TO FORCE RESIGNATION


O'Neill has resisted multiple attempts by the PNG parliament to force his resignation after he, and other senior government ministers, were implicated in a corruption scandal in 2014.


O'Neill has been fighting a warrant for his arrest in the courts ever since, which has caused the downfall of two police commissioners, an attorney general, supreme court judge and his personal lawyer.


The PNG parliament was due to hear the fourth motion for a vote of no confidence against the O'Neill on Wednesday, however the chamber has been adjourned until August due to the unrest.


The opposition claims the move by a biased acting-speaker was deliberate a deliberate attempt to avoid dealing with the police shootings and vote of no confidence.


""The people are not fools, and they are watching the actions of this government,"" Polye said.


""We will not give up...we will seek legal clarification on the adjournment and the issue of the vote of no confidence.""


By adjourning parliament until August, the motion for a vote of no confidence will be void. A vote of no confidence cannot be held within the 12 months before the next general election, due in July 2017.

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