Australia’s peacekeeping forces are deploying on riot-ridden Solomon Islands

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HONIARA: Australian peacekeepers were deployed on Friday (November 26) to secure the airport and port of the riot-ridden Solomon Islands capital Honiara as young men rummaged for goods in burning buildings in the Chinatown district.

In the morning, smoke flowed through the streets of fire-closed buildings, a scene of devastation after anti-government protesters swarmed the capital for two days, some burning and looting.

The vanguard of Australia’s rapid peacekeeping deployment arrived overnight in the Pacific island nation less than a day after Solomon’s Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare appealed for help to quell the violent unrest who threatened to overthrow his government.

After making the request, Sogavare said that the Solomons had been “brought to their knees” by the riot.

The unrest has been triggered by pandemic-driven economic frustrations and a long-standing rivalry between the inhabitants of the country’s most populous island of Malaita and the central government based on the island of Guadalcanal.

Canberra’s Home Secretary Karen Andrews said the Australian mission, which consisted of about 100 police and military personnel, was intended to restore law and order.

“Twenty-three Australian federal police were deployed immediately yesterday, they are already on the ground in Honiara, more will be deployed today, about 50 more,” she told Sky News.

“The situation is very volatile there. At the moment we know that the riots have escalated in recent days,” she said, adding that the troops would secure critical infrastructure including the airport and ports.

“MOBS FLOATS AROUND”

The archipelago nation with around 700,000 inhabitants has for decades been marked by ethnic and political tensions.

The latest unrest began on Wednesday when thousands of protesters besieged parliament, set fire to an outbuilding and tried to oust Sogavare, who has refused to resign.

Since then, the demonstrations have dropped to a violent free-for-all, with gangs of cane-armed youths raging through the capital, removing supplies and clashing with police.

“It’s a crowd that is moving, it’s very tense,” a resident told AFP, asking not to be named.

At the end of Thursday, thousands of looters openly defied the police order for locking, ran through the streets with boxes, drawers and bulging bags of goods while the flames crackled around them and plumes of thick black smoke poured high over the city.

Pictures published on social media showed buildings engulfed in flames, storefronts burning and corrugated roofs twisted and collapsed in the capital.

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