PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea - Papua New Guinea politics were deadlocked Thursday, with two men claiming to be prime minister, two governments saying they hold power, rival police chiefs maintaining the peace - and no one sure who actually was in charge.
The Supreme Court and the governor-general, Sir Michael Ogio, have backed Sir Michael Somare, 76, whom the court ruled was illegally removed as prime minister while getting medical treatment outside the country. But lawmakers loyal to his rival Peter O'Neill have passed retroactive legislation recognizing him as leader.
At a news conference Thursday, O'Neill said he had ordered police to take control of government offices, including the prime minister's office, where Somare and his followers were working. But O'Neill said he had no authority to issue arrest warrants for Somare or Somare's ministers.
"We are sick and tired of the selfish behavior by our politicians," said Michael Malabang, head of the country's Trade Union Congress, which represents tens of thousands of workers in Papua New Guinea, a former Australian territory rich in mineral resources. "We don't want a total public-service breakdown, and it is coming to that stage."
The standoff began Monday, when the Supreme Court ruled that O'Neill's election by parliament in August was unconstitutional and said Somare should be reinstated as prime minister. Lawmakers backing O'Neill stormed the gates of Ogio's official residence Tuesday, demanding he meet with O'Neill. Ogio said he would decide by Wednesday who should be prime minister.
On Wednesday, Ogio swore in Somare's cabinet. Somare insisted he did not need to be sworn in, because the Supreme Court had already reinstated him as prime minister.
But a majority of the country's 109 lawmakers voted later Wednesday to suspend Ogio and replace him temporarily with Speaker Jeffery Nape. Nape then swore O'Neill in as prime minister.
Somare dismissed Ogio's suspension as corrupt.
O'Neill's lawmaker supporters have occupied Parliament since Monday, when the Supreme Court ruling was issued. On Wednesday they voted to appeal that ruling.
One of Somare's first acts after the Supreme Court ordered his return to power was to reinstate former Police Commissioner Fred Yakasa and oust O'Neill's appointee, Tom Kulunga.