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Papua New Guinea elects new prime minister, ending chaos


PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea >> Papua New Guinea’s parliament elected Peter O’Neill as prime minister of the South Pacific island on Friday, ending a bitter, yearlong power struggle between the new leader and his predecessor that plunged the country into political chaos.

O’Neill, the only nominee, was elected by 94 votes to 12. Last month, his former leadership rival and political veteran, Sir Michael Somare, threw his support behind O’Neill’s People’s National Congress party, which won the general election.

The political drama began last August when the country’s parliament elected O’Neill prime minister in place of Somare, who was in Singapore undergoing medical treatment. The Supreme Court later ruled that Somare was the rightful leader, but O’Neill refused to step down.

At one stage of the standoff, both men were claiming to be prime minister, two governments were claiming to be in charge, and two police chiefs were fighting to maintain the peace.

O’Neill has formed a coalition of about 75 members of parliament, including Somare, who was first elected prime minister when Papua New Guinea became independent of Australia in 1975.

On Friday, O’Neill and Somare presented a united front, walking into parliament together and shaking hands after O’Neill was announced prime minister.

“I’m very pleased to announce that the government of Papua New Guinea is now in place,” O’Neill told reporters after he was sworn in. “And we look forward to working to the interests of our people so that we can have an opportunity of implementing some of the policies that we have stated to our people.”

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