Solomon Islands PM calls for calm, refuses to resign as violent protests erupt

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Violent protests targeting parliament, Chinese businesses and other buildings in the Pacific nation’s capital, Honiara, erupted on the second day of Thursday afternoon.

Despite civil unrest, Mr. Sogavare stood by his decision to end diplomatic relations with Taipei, which ignited tensions in Honiara.

“This decision is the right decision, it’s legal, it puts the Solomon Islands on the right side of history and is in line with international law,” he told ABC.

The 36-hour curfew in Honiara ended Friday morning to stop protests.

Mr. Sogavare blamed foreign powers for inciting unrest in the country.

Widespread protests began largely because of the island nation’s decision in September 2019 to change diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China.

By then, the Solomon Islands had maintained relations with Taipei for 36 years.

Most of the protesters had come from Malaita, the country’s most populated island.

Malaita Province maintained relations with Taipei, opposing the central government.

“I feel sorry for my people in Malaita because they are fed with false and deliberate lies about the transition,” Sogavare said.

The protests were attributed to longstanding feelings about the lack of economic development in the state of Malaita.

State leader Daniel Suidani was among those most vocally critical of the government’s move to recognize China. He said that Malaita will maintain ties with Taiwan.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (left) and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison meet in Honiara

Source: AAP

Solomon Islands Opposition Leader Matthew Wale said Friday that he “categorically rejects” allegations that he incited or was responsible for the riots in Honiara.

Mr Wale told ABC Radio that people in Honiara feel powerless to change things in the country through the democratic process.

“The Prime Minister’s comments about Malaites not banging their heads against a brick wall were culturally insensitive. It provoked even more emotions,” he said.

His comments came after he urged the prime minister to “do the right thing” and resign immediately.

Australian sends police and soldiers to aid ‘riot control’

Members of the Australian Federal Police were dispatched to the Solomon Islands to maintain calm following reports of arson, looting and extensive property damage.

Home Secretary Karen Andrews said 23 members of the AFP are now on the ground, including members of the tactical response team.

Forty-three Australian Defense Force personnel will also be deployed to the Solomon Islands to assist in “riot control”, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday.

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“The situation in the Solomon Islands has clearly deteriorated over the past few days,” he told Seven’s Sunrise.

“We know the situation is particularly volatile. Our role is to work very closely with the Solomon Islands police force to help restore law and public order.”

Andrews said Australia’s role is not to interfere in the country’s internal affairs.

“Our role there is very clear. It is to work closely with the Solomon Islands police force to make sure we are doing everything we can to help restore public order on the islands,” he said.

“So we are very clear about what our role is. It is not to intervene in any local situation of a political nature in the Solomon Islands.

“To ensure we can assist the Solomon Islands police force to help secure critical infrastructure and restore law and order as soon as possible.”

Videos on social media showed burning buildings.

Source: provided

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian deployment in the region would likely take weeks.

He estimates there are 200 Australian citizens in the country, although there is no exact figure.

“We will engage with them as we need to in terms of those who may want to leave,” Senator Payne told ABC Radio.

“Importantly, the travel advice is very, very clear on avoiding demonstrations and protests.”

China urges Solomon Islands to protect its citizens

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian expressed “serious concerns” and urged the Solomon Islands government to “take all necessary measures to protect the safety of Chinese citizens and organizations.”

He referred to the progress between the two countries in the fields of “economy, trade, infrastructure and education”.

“Any attempt to disrupt the normal development of China’s relations with any other country is useless,” he warned.

Taiwan maintains diplomatic relations with only 15 countries.

Many of its allies have cut ties in favor of China in recent years.

Additional reporting by AAP

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