Protests force Lae businesses to close, but damage minimal: Lae Chamber


Unrest in Papua New Guinea’s second city, Lae, has caused major disruptions for the city’s business community this week. Fortunately, as Lae Chamber of Commerce President Alan McLay told Business Advantage PNG, Lae has avoided serious damage and things are now returning to normal.

Credit: The National/Larry Aul Andrew

Credit: The National/Larry Aul Andrew

Businesses are returning to normal in Lae following two days of unrest that followed a protest against the operation of illegal street vendors in the city, according to Lae Chamber of Commerce (LCCI) President Alan McLay.

In addition to most businesses temporarily shutting their doors, public transport was suspended, flights into Lae Nadzab Airport cancelled and schools closed, bringing the city to a standstill.

The unrest in the Morobe Province capital had been brewing since Lae Police attempted to enforce laws against illegal street vendors several weeks ago, according to McLay.

After the vendors aggressively resisted the law enforcers, a petition was launched by the Morobe Youth Group of Lae City to have them removed. The Group then held an illegal demonstration through Lae on Monday, which escalated into incidents as they clashed with the street vendors.

The demonstration, which was against not only the street vendors, but also pickpockets, bag snatchers and thieves, was illegal, as insufficient notice had been provided to police.

Business impact

McLay told Business Advantage PNG that the unrest had ‘virtually finished’ by Wednesday after the protestors had handed the petition to the Morobe Governor and he did not expect the situation to flare up again.

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He said businesses in the city had reacted quickly to the unrest by closing their doors and increasing security. Flights to Lae have also now recommenced.

‘The effect of businesses closing for two days is certainly a loss for businesses in Lae,’ McLay said. ‘Mind you, some of the businesses more out of the way did stay open, and late yesterday (Tuesday) afternoon a lot of businesses had reopened,’ McLay explained.

Despite believing the incident was now over, McLay advised businesses in Lae to remain wary of the situation in case a ‘flare up’ does occur.

Parallels to 2011

McLay said the unrest has parallels to a similar incident in 2011, which left several people killed as they attempted to remove street vendors from Lae.

While the day-to-day operations of businesses in Lae had been interrupted by the unrest, McLay noted that the impact of the latest incident was minimal compared to previous riots.

‘You have to weigh everything up against the sort of losses there would have been if all of the stores had been looted and had things stolen, like in the past,’ McLay said.

‘The closure was left up to the businesses but right from the start we advised extreme caution. However, there really isn’t much damage that I can assess to stores at the moment.

‘With the traditional riots we’ve had in Lae in the past there have been lots of stores with damage—maybe this is a new trend.’

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