Papua foreign minister resigns role over coronation travel cost controversy

May 12, 2023 4:59 AM EDT

FILE PHOTO: Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla travel in a Diamond Jubilee Coach to Westminster Abbey, in London, Britain May 6, 2023. David Rose/Pool via REUTERS

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Papua New Guinea (PNG) Foreign Minister Justin Tkatchenko said he was resigning as minister on Friday amid a controversy over the cost and size of the country's delegation to the coronation of King Charles III in London.

Tkatchenko said in a statement that he "stood aside" after consulting with Prime Minister James Marape, who would assume the portfolio. He remains in parliament.

"I want to make sure the recent events do not interfere with the official visits and summits we are going to have with all the World Leaders in the coming weeks," Tkatchenko said.

"I also want to ensure the truth of this matter is cleared and the misinformation and lies are corrected," he added.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi are due on May 22 for what will be a historic visit.

On Wednesday, Tkachenko said Biden would sign a defence pact with PNG, which is being courted by the United States and China amid a contest for influence in the Pacific islands region. Tkachenko had been closely involved in the U.S. negotiations.

Marape said in a statement on Friday evening he would take over supervision of preparations for the arrival of Biden, Modi and more than a dozen Pacific island leaders. He commended Tkachenko for putting the national interest first.

Media and online news sites in PNG, a Pacific island member of the Commonwealth, have been running hot with insults and criticism of the cost of travel of a large PNG delegation of 30 people since Saturday's coronation in London's Westminster Abbey, with many saying the money would have been better spent on hospitals.

Each delegate had a 50,000 kina ($14,000) allowance to cover hotels and airfares.

Marape also said he wanted to apologise to Tkatchenko's family, and especially his daughter Savannah for what he called "the traumatic experience over the last couple of days".

"No woman deserves to be treated the way Savannah was treated over the last few days," he said.

Tkatchenko's daughter, who accompanied him on the trip, has become a focal point for anger after posting a TikTok video discussing luxury shopping before boarding a flight in Singapore.

Earlier, Tkatchenko had apologised for remarks he made to the Australian state broadcaster, in which he called people criticising his daughter on social media "primitive animals", prompting a further backlash.

Marape said it was a "poor choice of words".

Government House official secretary Bill Toraso confirmed to Reuters that 10 of the Governor General's staff had travelled to London, in addition to 10 guests, and travelled separately to the government delegation. Two foreign ministry officials also traveled with Tkatchenko, who had been asked by Marape to represent PNG in his place.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham, writing by Lewis Jackson; Editing by Sharon Singleton and Angus MacSwan)

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