Solomon Islands prime minister blames violent anti-government protests on foreign interference | Solomon Islands
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavari blamed foreign interference for his government’s decision to shift alliances from Taiwan to Beijing due to anti-government protests, arson and looting that have swept the capital Honiara for the past three days.
However, critics blamed the unrest on complaints of a lack of government services, accountability, corruption, and foreign workers taking up local jobs. In 2019, Sugavari also angered many, particularly the leaders of the most populous province of the Solomon Islands, Malita, when Cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Australian police began controlling hotspots in Honiara on Friday after they outnumbered local police, witnesses said. A resident told Reuters that tear gas spread to Chinatown as looting and burning of buildings continued on Friday morning.
Transform Acurao, a resident of Solomon Island, said more than a hundred people were looting shops before Australian Federal Police officers arrived.
“The scenes here are really chaotic. It is like a war zone,” Akurao told Reuters by phone on Friday morning. “There is no public transportation and it is a struggle with the heat and smoke. Buildings are still burning.” He later said that Australian police “are in control of Chinatown.”
A reporter for the Guardian said the area is “completely in ash now”, while businesses in the Renady industrial area in the east of the city have been targeted including a lumber yard, a bank and a hardware store.
Meanwhile, Australia’s ABC reported that rioters had targeted Sugavari’s private compound, setting the building on fire. Local police moved to quell the attack, reportedly firing warning shots.
Police said the curfew, which was initially imposed on Wednesday, was also extended overnight.
Australia had announced Thursday that it would Deployed more than 100 police and defense force personnel To support “riot control” and security in critical infrastructure.
Many of the protesters come from the most populous province of Malaita, feel ignored by the government in Guadalcanal province and oppose its 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Malaita Prime Minister Daniel Suidani said in a statement this week that Sugavari had “raised the interests of foreigners above the interests of Solomon Islanders” and should resign.
Sogavari said on Friday he stood by his government’s decision to embrace Beijing, which he described as the “single issue” in the violence, which he “unfortunately has been influenced and encouraged by other forces”.
External pressures have had “a very big impact. I don’t want to name names. We will leave them there,” Sogavary said. “I will not kneel to anyone. We are the way we are, the government is sound and we will defend democracy.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne did not agree that other countries had fomented the unrest. “We didn’t make it clear at all,” Payne said. “We have been very clear. Our view is that we do not want to see violence. We very much hope that stability will return.”
Local journalist Gina Kekia said a foreign policy shift to Beijing with little public consultation was one of a combination of issues that led to the protests. There have also been complaints that foreign companies are not providing local jobs.
“Chinese companies and [other] “Asian companies … seem to have the most work, especially when it comes to resource extraction, which people feel very strongly,” Kikia told ABC.
Kikia said protesters were replaced by thieves and trash on Friday in the hard-hit Chinatown of Honiara. “It’s been two days, two whole days of looting, protesting, rioting and Honiara is just a small town,” Kikia said. “So I guess there’s not much left for them to plunder and spoil now.”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday Committed forces, police and diplomats To help local police restore order and protect critical infrastructure. Australia will not help protect the national parliament and executive buildings, indicating that Australia does not take sides with any political party.
Some observers argue that Australia intervened quickly to avoid Chinese security forces moving to restore order. But Morrison said Sugavari asked for help because he trusted Australia.
“The Solomon Islands reached out to us first…as a family because they trust us and we have worked hard for that trust in the Pacific,” Morrison said. “This is our region and we stand to secure our region with our partners, friends, family and allies.”
Sugavari has requested assistance from Australia under a bilateral security treaty that has been in place since 2017, when Australian peacekeepers last left the Solomon Islands.
Australia led an international police and military force called the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands that restored peace in the country after bloody ethnic violence from 2003 until 2017.
Meanwhile, China expressed its grave concern over the recent attacks on some Chinese citizens and institutions, without providing details.
“We believe that under the leadership of Prime Minister Sugavari, the Solomon Islands government can restore social order and stability as soon as possible,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday.
He said that economic and other cooperation since the establishment of diplomatic relations have benefited both sides. “Any attempts to undermine the normal development of China-Solomon relations are futile,” he said.
Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said the Australian force would also be equipped to “provide a medical response”. It is definitely a dangerous situation on the ground. “We have seen the riots that have occurred, the arson and the general commotion that is present at the moment as well,” he added. “So there is a lot of work that the police have to do on the ground.”
Sugavari announced the closure on Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in Honiara to demand his resignation.
The government said protesters stormed the National Parliament building and burned the thatched roof of an adjacent building. They also set fire to a police station and other buildings.