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Deaths, vote rigging as election enters 2nd week

HAMISH McDONALD / Wewak
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

SEVERAL PEOPLE HAVE REPORTEDLY been hacked to death in an ambush near a polling station as Papua New Guinea lurches into the second week of its troubled national elections.

The attack took place late on Thursday near the Murusapa polling station inland from the northern coastal city of Madang, with supporters of one candidate attacking scrutineers of another candidate with bush knives while bystanders fled.

The exact death toll was unclear last night but reports said between three to six people may have been killed.

In a separate incident a young girl was killed by crossfire when shooting broke out near the Porgera gold mine in Enga province between armed supporters of rival candidates.

Tensions are rising in the country with allegations of cheating and intimidation between rival candidates.

On Saturday, several of the 14 candidates in the Hagen Open electorate of Western Highlands province complained to local election officials about 7000 ''ghost names'' they said they had found on the electoral roll for the seat.

In many provinces large numbers of people say they have been disenfranchised because their names have been left off the common roll. The candidate who reported the attack near Madang to the Post-Courier newspaper, Michael Kukurai Tataki, said a whole village in the Malala area could not vote because none were listed.

Candidates also voice concern that corrupt polling officials and police are selling leftover blank voting slips to candidates, to be filled in and replace valid votes.

In the newly created Hela province in the southern highlands near the $15 billion ExxonMobil liquefied natural gas project, supporters of local candidates rioted last week when it was proposed to take ballot boxes away to Mount Hagen for counting.

Officials relented, and counting was due to take place locally in Tari yesterday with election monitors from Transparency International and the Commonwealth watching as closely as possible, and two police rapid response teams standing by.

In the Vanimo-Green electorate close to the Indonesian border on the northern coast, held by controversial Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah, candidates have petitioned the electoral commission for extra security including Australian and New Zealand defence personnel, to counter vote rigging. Green Party candidate Dorothy Tekwie said they were prompted by threats made against their campaigns by Mr Namah's associates.

The violence in the southern highlands and Enga has prevented police and army personnel being moved to other highland provinces, causing votes to be postponed. The vote in the Western Highlands, delayed three days, goes ahead today.

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