Solomons police fire warning shots to disperse protesters as Australian peacekeepers arrive

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According to an AFP reporter at the scene, thousands of people — waving some axes and knives — were attacked in the city’s Chinatown, Point Cruz, and business districts.

A house belonging to Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was also reportedly set on fire during Friday’s chaos.

The burning of a large warehouse in Chinatown caused an explosion that caused many people to flee the scene in panic.

There were also reports of a tobacco warehouse being set on fire as smoke from previous days’ fires left parts of the devastated city of 80,000 people in a sharp fog.

The tiny Pacific Island nation has been rocked by days of violent anti-government demonstrations.

The first of Australia’s sudden peacekeeping deployments came overnight, hours after Solomons Prime Minister Sogavare appealed to his neighbors for emergency assistance to quell the unrest that threatened to topple his government.

Australian Federal Police Special Operations members prepare to leave Canberra for the Solomon Islands.

Source: Australian Ministry of Defense


On Friday, Papua New Guinea sent a detachment of 34 peacekeepers to stop the violence.

Australia will send 43 more soldiers and officers in the coming days, and 15 federal police officers will arrive on Friday.

Home Secretary Karen Andrews said the Australian mission, comprising around 100 police and military personnel, aims to restore order and order.

“The situation there is very volatile. We now know that the uprising has escalated over the past few days,” he told Sky News, adding that the troops will secure critical infrastructure, including Honiara’s airport and port.

Unlike Canberra’s previous peacekeeping mission, which ran from 2003 to 2017 and cost about US$2.2 billion, Australia’s final deployment is expected to take “a few weeks,” Andrews said.

Our primary goal is to ensure security and safety, and not to intervene in any of the current political issues,” he said.

Sogavare blamed foreign powers for the unrest

Sogavare said the Suleimans were “bred to their knees” by the uprising but vowed to resist calls for his resignation.

Behind the disturbances, the pro-Beijing leader claimed, were foreign powers that opposed the 2019 decision by the Solomons to shift diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China.

“Unfortunately he is influenced and encouraged by other forces… I don’t want to name names, we’ll just leave it there, we know who they are,” he told ABC.

Others blame the economic frustrations caused by the epidemic and the long-standing rivalry between residents of the country’s most populous island, Malaita, and the central government based on the island of Guadalcanal.

The archipelago nation of some 700,000 has been beset by ethnic and political tensions for decades.

The latest unrest began Wednesday as thousands of protesters besieged parliament, set fire to an annex and tried to topple Sogavare.

Later, violence became free for all as gangs of youth using sticks ignoring the curfew, robbing warehouses and clashing with the police furiously march through the capital.

By late Thursday, thousands of looters rushed through the streets carrying boxes, trunks and bulging sacks of goods as crackling flames and thick black smoke rose from the heights of the city all around them, in clear defiance of police restraint orders.

In Beijing, 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.”

In the late 1990s, Guadalcanal militants launched attacks targeting settlers, particularly those from Malaita, and there was unrest in the country for five years.

So-called “Tensions” have been eased only by the deployment of an Australian-led peacekeeping mission – called the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands.

long-standing tensions

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

Malaita authorities opposed the move and defiantly maintained contact with Taiwanese authorities. As a result, the state continues to receive large amounts of aid from Taipei and Washington.

State Prime Minister Daniel Suidani accused Sogavare of being in Beijing’s pocket and claimed that he “puts foreign attention above that of Solomon Islanders”.

“People are not blind to it and they don’t want to be deceived anymore,” he said.

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.

Experts say that geopolitical competition did not directly trigger the crisis, but contributed.

“The actions of these great powers – even if they are favored by individual political actors – have a destabilizing effect on an already fragile and vulnerable country,” said Mihai Sora, a Pacific expert at the Lowy Institute in Australia.

“Then of course the contemporary context is one of the protracted economic challenges due to Covid restrictions, a Covid emergency,” he told AFP.

Additional reporting: SBS News

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