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Papua New Guinea PM Resigns

July 7, 1999

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (AP) _ Dogged by accusations of corruption, Papua New Guinea’s prime minister announced his resignation Wednesday, days before a parliamentary vote was expected to unseat him.

The announcement by Bill Skate came hours after this small Pacific nation established diplomatic ties with Taiwan, a move that infuriated China.

Skate, 46, who has been accused of graft and links to street gangs known as ``rascals,″ told reporters in the capital, Port Moresby, he was resigning to restore political stability and business confidence. He said he would hand in his resignation on Thursday.

The prime minister said the move was unrelated to this week’s decision to recognize Taiwan, instead of rival China. Taiwan and China split amid civil war in 1949 and have waged a struggle for diplomatic recognition ever since.

Opponents of Skate had planned to move a no-confidence motion in parliament, set to resume July 13, and observers said Skate was certain to lose.

Papua New Guinea politics are based on ancient tribal allegiances that can shift quickly. No-confidence motions were so common that the parliament passed laws that banned them for the first 18 months of a prime minister’s rule, in the interests of stability.

The leader of the People’s Democratic Movement, which recently deserted the government to join the opposition, said he had enough support to become the next prime minister.

PDM leader Sir Mekere Morauta said if he becomes prime minister, he would review the government’s decision to recognize Taiwan.

Skate, formerly Port Moresby’s governor, became prime minister in 1997 after campaigning against corruption.

He was embarrassed in November 1997 after Australian Broadcasting Corp. broadcast videotapes in which he appeared to authorize a bribe, boasted of ordering a murder and bragged that he is the ``godfather″ of rascal gangs.

Although rich in copper, gold and other commodities, Papua New Guinea’s economy has declined during Skate’s rule. Natural disasters are partly to blame, but discontent has risen as the value of the currency, the kina, has declined and inflation is running at more than 20 percent.

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