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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

PNG Premier Bows Out Of Office

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea -- Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan bowed to military and popular pressure Wednesday and stepped down to end 10 days of turmoil in this South Pacific nation.

Chan's announcement to parliament prompted jubilation among thousands of protesters, including soldiers loyal to sacked army chief Jerry Singirok, who had blockaded the building.

The 57-year-old Chan, who was serving his second term as prime minister, had tried to tough out a crisis over his decision to hire foreign mercenaries to crush an ethnic uprising on the island of Bougainville.

Singirok demanded Chan resign over the $36 million mercenary contract but Chan in turn sacked the quietly-spoken "soldier's soldier," sparking wide-spread protests and some violence and looting by Papua New Guinea's criminal gangs.

"I am not a hero. I think everyone is a hero," Singirok told reporters as his supporters celebrated their victory. "We fought for something for everyone and everyone that fought with us is a hero."

Chan bowed Wednesday to the inevitable, telling parliament that he, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Haiveta and Defense Minister Mathias Ijape would step aside during an inquiry into the mercenary contract and ahead of elections due in June.

"Mr. Speaker, in the interest and for the good [of the nation] and in order to defuse something that I consider a little bit explosive outside, I will direct the deputy prime minister and the minister for defense to step aside," Chan said.

"I myself will step aside and I will have the Cabinet to consider to appoint the acting prime minister," he added.

Chan could have resigned outright, but under the constitution he could not have been forced out of power from the floor of parliament in the 12 months ahead of elections.

The worst crisis in Papua New Guinea's 22 years of independence started March 17 when Singirok turned on Chan, demanding he quit and expel 70 African mercenaries.

The mercenaries had been hired in a secret deal to crush the nine-year secessionist war on Bougainville and recapture a vast copper mine forced to close by the fighting in 1989.

Singirok was promptly sacked, but Chan was unable to control popular and military opposition. Street protests saw dozens of people injured, and although the army exercised restraint, Singirok and other senior officers kept up the pressure on Chan and his allies.

News of Chan's departure was greeted with a huge roar of approval by thousands of protesters besieging the parliament building.