Australia 'concerned' by PNG election delay

Papua New Guinea's Sir Michael Somare and Peter O'Neill (AP/AFP) Both Sir Michael Somare (L) and Peter O'Neill claim the top job in Papua New Guinea

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Australia has expressed concern at a decision in Papua New Guinea to delay elections by six months, amid an ongoing political crisis.

PNG's parliament voted on Thursday to delay the polls because of security and electoral roll issues.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in a statement that she was "disappointed and concerned".

Two men claim the prime minister role and the polls had been seen as a way of ending the political turmoil.

Ms Gillard said that ''as a strong supporter... of Papua New Guinea, Australia believes elections should be held on time, in accordance with the constitution''.

But PNG's Deputy Prime Minister Belden Namah warned Australia not to interfere.

''You must respect our wishes. You must not intrude into our election process,'' he said.

Judges suspended

The vote in parliament to delay the polls was passed by 63 votes to 11. Elections must be held every five years in PNG and voting had been due in June.

The country's political landscape has been thrown into turmoil by the tussle between Sir Michael Somare and Peter O'Neill for the role of prime minister.

Sir Michael - then prime minister - left the country in March 2011 to receive medical treatment. In August, MPs declared the position of prime minister vacant and elected Mr O'Neill leader.

But a Supreme Court ruling in December 2011 stated that parliament had acted illegally and ordered that Sir Michael be restored to office.

Mr O'Neill, who is backed by the civil service and effectively running the country, refused to step down.

In January a retired colonel staged a failed mutiny with a group of soldiers, taking the chief of defence forces captive and demanding that Sir Michael be reinstated.

The Supreme Court is now looking to rule on the political battle - but in recent days Mr O'Neill's government passed a law allowing it to effectively suspend two of the judges.

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