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PNG says sorry for violence against women

Milne Bay House Cry. Image credit: Natasha via Facebook

PAPUA New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill has apologised for the violence faced by women in his country and pledged a crackdown on perpetrators including a return to the death penalty.
More than 1000 people - mostly women - gathered in Port Moresby's Sir John Guise Stadium for a national day of mourning, or "haus krai", over violence against women in Papua New Guinea.
PNG has been rocked in recent months by a series of internationally condemned attacks on women - including the burning murder of a young mother, the beheading of a former teacher and the pack rape of an American academic.
"Your government says sorry," Mr O'Neill said.
"It is not acceptable in this day and age and your government stands with you.
"I want to express our sympathy for all the victims of this despicable violence in our communities throughout the country."
Mr O'Neill pledged to bring laws with tougher penalties, including the reintroduction of the death penalty, before the Pacific nation's parliament in coming weeks.
The reforms will include life without parole for rapists and tougher drug and alcohol penalties.
Women and men began filling Sir John Guise stadium on Tuesday night for an overnight prayer service.
By Wednesday afternoon the crowd had grown from about 300 to more than 1000.
"We have been beaten. We have been beheaded. We have been beaten to a pulp," event organiser Esther Igo said in an emotional speech directed at Prime Minister Peter O'Neill.
"I stand here shaking, PM, because this is historical for PNG women to come together and talk to you from our heart.
"From the bottom of our hearts, enough is enough."
She called on the government not to rely on tougher penalties alone.
"If you look at it from a safety and security point of view - which violence is all about - you know, we're getting killed," she earlier told reporters.
While interviewing Ms Igo, a lone speaker on stage began to wail and sob, encouraging others to join in and voice their sadness and anger at domestic violence.
PNG's treatment of women has been brought into horrific focus in recent months.
In February, 20-year-old mother of one Kepari Leniata was burned alive in Mt Hagen, the country's third largest town.
Shortly after, former teacher Helen Rumbali was beheaded after she, like Kepari, was accused of practising sorcery.
Ms Rumbali's sister Nikono, who survived an attempted beheading, and her two teenage daughters were also kidnapped by Ms Rumbali's killers.
Last month a US academic was pack-raped near Madang, on the nation's east coast.
Some estimates suggest as many as 70 per cent of women in PNG have experienced domestic or sexual violence in their lifetime.
However, the reintroduction of the death penalty for violent crime is not universally supported.
One woman told AAP she supported the tough measures planned by the government, but she said enforcing the law was the real problem.
"I think the government needs to do something," said haus krai attendee Jacinta Koga.
"It is up to the government."
Anglican bishop Peter Ramsden told the crowd the death penalty was not the answer.
"Violence begets more violence," he later told AAP.
A series of high-profile foreign diplomats attended the event, including Australian High Commissioner Deborah Stokes and US ambassador Walter North.
"Everyone has a vital role to play in condemning violence against women," Ms Stokes said.
"Australia extends its support for your courage and your leadership."
The crowd observed a minute's silence for women and girls who had died as a result of violence.
Opposition leader Belden Namah attended the service last night.


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