28 Jun 2011

Veteran leader of PNG steps down due to poor health

6:49 pm on 28 June 2011

Papua New Guinea's veteran prime minister Sir Michael Somare has stepped down from office and will retire from politics because of ill health.

The 75-year-old leader, who first became prime minister in 1975, underwent heart surgery earlier this year in Singapore.

Since then, he has repeatedly denied speculation he is seriously ill.

But Sir Michael's son, Arthur Somare, told a news conference in Port Moresby on Tuesday his father remains critically ill following the surgery.

He said his father had made the decision to permanently step down from the prime minister's office and leave PNG politics.

The decision ends a political career which began nearly 50 years ago, and saw Sir Michael appointed as Papua New Guinea's first prime minister when the country gained independence from Australia in 1975.

In April, Sir Michael served a two-week suspension from office after he was found guilty of official misconduct.

He vowed to return to the prime minister's office after the suspension, but instead remained in Singapore on medical leave.

It is not known when a decision will be made about his permanent successor, with PNG's parliament in recess until August, and national elections not expected until the middle of next year.