PNG PM calls on husbands to stop beating wives

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PORT MORESBY, Nov 8 (Reuters) The prime minister of Papua New Guinea has called on husbands to stop beating their wives, saying he is ashamed of the high level of domestic violence in his South Pacific island nation.

Sir Michael Somare's comments follow recent newspaper reports of severe wife beatings, including one in which a husband ripped his wife's unborn child from her womb.

The attack on the woman and her child in October sparked calls by women for tougher domestic violence laws in Papua New Guinea, a nation where polygamy is widespread, rape commonplace, and where subsistence villagers value pigs more highly than women.

''We have a big attitude problem in our country,'' Somare said in the Post Courier newspaper today. ''I think Papua New Guineans should now change their attitude.'' ''I would like to appeal to the husbands to reconcile themselves, differences you sort out with your wife (without violence).'' In the past week the Post Courier newspaper has run front page stories and photos of women severely beaten, set on fire or tortured.

Papua New Guinea Police Commissioner Gari Baki launched a crackdown on domestic violence last week, ordering a local police commander stood down after he beat his wife, forcing her to be airlifted to hospital in the capital Port Moresby.

''It is sickening. I am disgusted and very angry,'' Baki told the Post Courier this week.

''What is happening around the country is criminal. Each day there is a report about a woman suffering unimaginable torture at the hands of husbands or criminals. These are not real men. They are cowards.'' Papua New Guinea is a mountainous jungle-clad island, where black magic and payback violence is widespread and where most of its 5.4 million people live a rural subsistence life.

Somare said domestic violence was not just happening in remote jungle villages, but in highly educated families, and that he felt ashamed reading women's letters to newspapers detailing the violence they endure.

''I would like to appeal to Papua New Guineans, let's set examples, good family life is very important,'' he said.

REUTERS GT BD0948

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