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Vanuatu: Troubles in the South Pacific

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The sunny sidewalks and streets of Port Vila (pop. 18,000), capital of the island republic of Vanuatu, about 1,000 miles east of Australia, became a South Pacific battleground last week. Chanting “Change the law or there will be a revolution!” about 2,000 marchers, some armed with iron bars and clubs, clashed with 140 police and soldiers. One man was killed and nine were injured. Looters then turned the city into a shambles of debris and shattered glass. A beleaguered Prime Minister Walter Lini requested help from the Australian government, which quickly airlifted in riot-control gear.

The outburst was inspired by the transfer of Port Vila land leases from a semi-government authority to a government department. Members of Vanuatu’s three Melanesian tribes, which consider themselves the traditional owners of the land, opposed government control of the leases.

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