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Police Fire at Papua New Guinea Protesters

A Papua New Guinea police officer (L) prevents students from marching from the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, June 8, 2016.

More than 20 people have been wounded after police in Papua New Guinea opened fire on a student protest Wednesday in the capital of Port Moresby, with reports, that at least four people had been killed.

The South Pacific country's parliament has been told the violence took place during a demonstration by students and officials denied news reports of any fatalities.

Protestors say the police in Papua New Guinea fired shots directly into the crowd during a rally over alleged government corruption. The violence reportedly took place when officers tried to arrest the president of a student council.

Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

Opposition members of parliament have said that four people have died, and several others were injured, although there has been no independent confirmation. In videos posted on social media gunfire can clearly be heard, while students apparently flee amid clouds of tear gas.

Papua New Guinea is a former Australian colony, and the two Asia-Pacific neighbors are at their closest point separated by just a couple of kilometers of sea.

Australia's Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, hopes the violence does not worsen.

“We call on all sides for calm to de-escalate the tensions, and certainly call on all sides to respect the peaceful and lawful right to protest. We will be monitoring the situation very closely. There are about 70 Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers in PNG spread throughout the country, and our High Commission will be working with the Australian AFP who are there to monitor the situation and keep me and keep the Australian government informed,” said Bishop.

Political unrest

Thousands of students at the University of Papua New Guinea have been protesting and boycotting classes for several weeks amid growing political unrest in the South Pacific nation.

Following Wednesday’s disturbances rioting and looting was reported in Port Moresby.

Human Rights Watch issued a statement calling the shootings "shocking, and a truly terrible incident for which all security officials responsible for using lethal force unnecessarily need to be brought to justice.”

Papua New Guinea has a population of about 6.6 million, and has struggled with tribal violence and poverty despite a wealth of natural resources. It is ranked 139 out of 168 in Transparency International's corruption index.