Police fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse insurgents marching on the fighting leader’s house. Manasseh Sogavare to the east of the usually sleepy coastal capital.
The crowd set fire to at least one nearby building before they were driven back towards the city center, AFP reporters witnessed.
Solomon Islands: Pacific archipelago paralyzed by unrest
People walk through the looted streets of Chinatown in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Friday blamed foreign officials for his government’s decision to change alliances from Taiwan to Beijing for protests against the government, arson and looting that have ravaged the capital Honiara in recent days. (AP image)
Later, newly arrived Australian police and soldiers moved to restore order, protect critical infrastructure and provide a highly visible and heavily armed presence on the streets.
When the rain fell early in the evening, local authorities went to eradicate the embers of violence and declared a curfew at night in Honiara that will continue to apply “until it is revoked”.
Mobs had ignored a previous 36-hour lockdown, with thousands of people – some swinging axes and knives – wandering through the city of Chinatown, Point Cruz and business districts, according to AFP correspondents at the scene.
The explosion of violence is partly a result of frustrations over Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment – exacerbated by a two-year-old pandemic.
“Most people barely get one meal a day, there are no tourists and very little financial incentive,” Douglas said Kelson, chief officer at the St John Ambulance Service, told AFP.
“People do things they would not normally do when they are hungry,” Kelson said, although he had seen very few injuries.
After three days of chaos, large parts of the capital are charred by the flames, even though the insurgents lit fewer fires than in previous days.
The burnt black shells of buildings lined a fire-ravaged street and three burnt trucks were left stranded on the road as young men passed by.
“We live in fear,” residents said Josephine Teakeni told AFP.
“At the moment it is very difficult … children will miss school, many mothers will be unemployed.”
Solomon Islands Red Cross Secretary-General Clement Manuri said Australian police had helped disperse rioters armed with stones outside his office.
Many of them on the streets lived in informal settlements near Chinatown and had drunk alcohol, Manuri said.
In Chinatown itself, a large warehouse was set on fire on Friday, causing an explosion that caused many people to flee the scene in panic.
A tobacco warehouse was also set on fire when smoke from previous days’ fires threw parts of the devastated city of 80,000 people into a sharp haze.
The overrun Royal Salomon Islands Police Force said they had only made two arrests, despite two police stations being among the many buildings that burned.
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 counterpart in Papua New Guinea James Marape that “certain elements” had “tried to overthrow a democratically elected government” and demanded that peacekeepers 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, Sogavare told the 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.
Experts say the crisis has also been fueled by long-standing enmity between the inhabitants of the most populous island of Malaita and the central government based on the island of Guadalcanal.
The archipelago nation with about 700,000 people has for decades endured ethnic and political tensions.
Malaita residents have long complained that their island has been neglected by the central government, and the division intensified when Sogavare recognized Beijing in 2019.
The Chinese government on Friday condemned the violence and promised to “safeguard the security and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens and institutions.”