Riots shake the Solomon Islands’ capital for the third day despite peacekeeping forces

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Polisen avlossade varningsskott och tårgas för att skingra upprorsmakare som attackerade Salomonöarnas premiärministers hem på fredagen, under en tredje dag av politiskt våld som föranledde en snabb utplacering av internationella fredsbevarande styrkor.

When Australian police and soldiers were deployed to secure the port, airport and other critical infrastructure, crowds again burned buildings and looted the burning debris from shops in the usually sleepy area. Solomon’s Island Honiara’s capital by the sea.

Thousands of people – some waving axes and knives – raged through the city’s Chinatown, Point Cruz and business districts, according to AFP correspondents at the scene.

– We live in fear, says resident Josephine Teakeni to AFP.

“At the moment it is very difficult … children will miss school, many mothers will be unemployed.”

The explosion of violence is partly a result of frustrations over Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment exacerbated by the pandemic.

The cause of the unrest is also long-standing enmity between the inhabitants of the country’s most populous island of Malaita and the central government based on the Guadalcanal.

Crowds expressed their anger on Friday by setting fire to at least one building near Sogavare’s home, before police fired warning shots to drive the mob back to Honiara’s center, AFP reporters witnessed.

In Chinatown, a large warehouse was set on fire, causing an explosion that caused many people to flee the scene in panic.

A tobacco store was also lit when smoke from previous days’ fires threw parts of the devastated city with 80,000 people into a sharp haze.

The overrun Royal Salomon Islands Police Force said on Friday that they had only made two arrests, despite two police stations being among the many buildings that burned.

“Urgent help”

The approximately 100 Australian peacekeepers arrived overnight, just hours after Sogavare asked neighbors for emergency help.

In a letter received by AFP, Sogavare told his Papua New Guinea counterpart, James Marape, that “certain elements” had “tried to overthrow a democratically elected government” and demanded that a peacekeeping force be sent for a “period of three to four weeks”. “.

Papua New Guinea agreed to send 34 peacekeepers to help combat the violence.

In a speech to the nation on Thursday, Sogavare told citizens that the Solomons had been “brought to their knees” by the riot, but promised to resist calls for his resignation.

The Beijing-friendly leader claimed that foreign powers that opposed his 2019 decision to change Solomon’s diplomatic loyalty from Taiwan to China were behind the unrest.

“Unfortunately, it is influenced and encouraged by other powers … I do not want to name names, we leave it there, we know who they are,” he told Australia’s public broadcaster, without naming the powers or providing evidence.

“Bullying moves around”

The riots began on Wednesday when thousands of protesters besieged parliament, set fire to an outbuilding and tried to oust Sogavare.

It then sank into a violent free-for-all, when crowds of cane-armed youths ignored a curfew and raged through the capital, stripped stocks of goods and clashed with police.

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.

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian expressed “great concern” and called on the Solomon Islands government to protect Chinese citizens.

Slow combustion

The archipelago nation with about 700,000 people has for decades endured ethnic and political tensions.

In the late 1990s, Guadalcanal militants launched attacks on settlers, especially those in Malaita, and for five years unrest plagued the country.

The so-called “tensions” only eased with the deployment of an Australian-led peacekeeping mission that lasted from 2003 to 2017.

The Australian government said its latest deployment was only expected to last “a few weeks”.

Malaita residents have long complained that their island is neglected by the central government, and the division intensified when Sogavare recognized Beijing.

The Malaysian authorities opposed the move and maintained contact with the Taiwanese authorities. The province continues to receive excessive aid from Taipei and Washington.

The province’s prime minister, Daniel Suidani, has accused Sogavare of being in Beijing’s pocket and claimed he had “raised foreigners’ interest in Solomon Islanders”.

“People are not blind to this and do not want to be deceived anymore,” he said.

Experts say that geopolitical rivalry did not trigger the crisis immediately, but it did contribute.

“The actions of these great powers – while benefiting individual political actors – have a destabilizing effect on what is already a fragile and vulnerable country,” Mihai Sora, an expert on the Pacific at Australia’s Lowy Institute, told AFP.

“Then, of course, the contemporary context is one of heightened economic difficulties due to Covid restrictions, a Covid state of emergency.”

(AFP)

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