Solomon Islands protests: Public workers are urged to stay home as violent protests in Honiara continue for the third day

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Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, has been plagued by civil unrest since Wednesday, with protests, looting and the burning down of shops and businesses. Despite a previous 36-hour curfew, thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

The new curfew will last from 19.00 to 06.00 daily and applies from Friday. “During the period, only competent officials are allowed to move within the city,” the government said in a statement.

Security forces have been unable to stop the protests in Honiara, which are urging the government to respect the Malaita people’s right to self-determination, to limit ties with China and to resume development projects in Malaita province – home to the country’s most populous island.

A spokesman for the Royal Salomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) told CNN by telephone on Friday that fire engines had been sent to Sogavare’s residence as a precaution and that protesters had moved out of the city’s Chinatown district, where violence had previously been concentrated.

On Friday, the central government advised all public officials to stay home because of the unrest, with the exception of necessary workers, and encouraged staff to ensure they had food supplies “because of the uncertainty in the current situation.” On Thursday, a local journalist said that fires were burning in Chinatown and that the police had lost control in eastern Honiara.

Flames rise from buildings in Honiara's Chinatown on November 26, after days of unrest
Australia has sent out police and military troops to the Pacific Islander to help quell the unrest after receiving a formal request from the government under a bilateral security agreement for assistance and to support the RSIPF.

Jone Tuiipelehaki, a development consultant at Honiara, said Chinatown had seen some of the worst of the violence.

“Even during the shutdown, we saw people looting and breaking into malls around the east side of Honiara, but also in Chinatown in particular, (which) received the full burden of the violent protesters because they burned down many of the shops in that area,” he said. he said.

Tuiipelehaki said it was difficult to interpret whether people plundered because they saw an opportunity or if their actions were part of a genuine protest.

“There are a lot of young people involved in looting and burglary in the shops,” he said, adding that he saw young men and women break into a liquor store.

“Even when we’re talking right now, I can see people running out with bags of rice and cans and cartons of canned fish,” he said.

Lisa Cuatt, Solomon Islands’ country manager for Save the Children in Honiara, said that in the evening local time the situation had calmed down but looting and riots had continued throughout Friday.

“It has been a few very painful days. People are afraid for their safety. Most of the violence has been directed at buildings, but targeting infrastructure means targeting people’s livelihoods. Families and children are losing out. scenario “, she said, adding that one of the larger buildings that was destroyed was a high school in the capital during the graduation week.

“There is no money left in the ATMs, the shops have been closed, families and children are running out of food because it is difficult or unsafe to access it at this point,” Cuatt said.

The Special Operations Officer of the Australian Federal Police prepares his equipment before departing from Canberra for the Solomon Islands capital Honiara on 25 November.

Prime Minister Sogavare has refused to give in to the demands of the protesters, saying in a public speech published in local media on Thursday: “If I am deposed as prime minister, it will be on the floor of parliament.”

Many of the protesters have come from the nearby province of Malaita to express their dissatisfaction with the Sogavare government and its handling of a range of domestic issues, including lack of development and unrealized promises of infrastructure.

“The events illustrate the sense of exclusion for many from the developments in Honiara and Guadalcanal that arise from the dominance of retail, mining, logging and the increasingly construction sector by companies and workers from Asia,” said Anouk Ride, a research and development researcher. conflicts and social inclusion, sign Lowy Institute’s website The Interpreter.
Prime Minister Sogavare, however, accused unnamed foreign powers of encouraging the unrest. according to to an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Cooperation.
Smoke rises from burnt-out buildings in Honiara's Chinatown on November 26.

The province of Malaita opposed Solomon’s central government decision in 2019 to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establish a formal relationship with China.

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

“It is precisely these countries that are now affecting Malaita that are the countries that do not want relations with the People’s Republic of China and they are discouraging Solomon Islands from entering into diplomatic relations and complying with international law and the UN resolution.

China has said it is “seriously concerned” about what it said were attacks on Chinese citizens and businesses in Honiara on Thursday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the authorities “have asked the local government to take all necessary measures to protect the security of Chinese citizens and institutions.”

“We are convinced that under the leadership of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, the Solomon Islands Government will soon be able to restore social order and stability,” Zhao said.

This Pacific Island province is so frustrated with China's presence that it is pushing for independence

The Solomon Islands was one of a handful of countries that had diplomatic relations with the democratically autonomous island of Taiwan, but in 2019 the archipelago exchanged loyalty to China. Beijing regards Taiwan as part of China and refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that does not recognize its “China policy”.

Zhao stressed that the One China Policy “is a fundamental norm that governs international relations” and since the Solomon Islands established diplomatic relations with China, “bilateral relations have had a healthy development with fruitful results.”

“Any attempt to disrupt the normal development of relations between China and the Solomon Islands is just pointless,” he said.

Additional reporting by CNN’s Pauline Lockwood and Reuters.

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