Solomon Islands PM urges calm, refuses to step down as violent protests erupt

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

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

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

A 36-hour lockdown in Honiara to curb the protests ended on Friday morning.

Mr Sogavare has blamed foreign powers for encouraging the unrest in the country.

The widespread protests have largely started due to the island nation’s decision in September 2019 to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China.

Up until that point the Solomon Islands had maintained relations with Taipei for 36 years.

Many of the protesters had arrived from Malaita, the country’s most populous island.

The Malaita Province has maintained relations with Taipei in defiance of the central government.

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

The protests tied into longstanding feelings around a lack of economic development in the Malaita province.

The province’s leader, Daniel Suidani, was among the most vocal critics of the government’s move to recognise China. He said Malaita will retain ties with Taiwan.

Solomons Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare (left) and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison meeting in Honiara

Source: AAP

Solomon Islands Opposition Leader Matthew Wale on Friday said he “categorically rejects” claims that he incited or is 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 on Malaitans not to bang their heads against a brick wall was culturally insensitive. It has further incited feelings,” he said.

His comments come after he called on the prime minister to “do the right thing” and immediately resign.

Australia sends police, soldiers to assist with ‘riot control’

Members of the Australian Federal Police have been deployed to the Solomon Islands to restore calm after reports of arson, looting and extensive property damage.

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

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

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“Over the last couple of days clearly the situation in the Solomon Islands has deteriorated,” she told Seven’s Sunrise program.

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

Ms Andrews said Australia’s role was not to intervene in the country’s domestic affairs.

“Our role there is very clear. It is to work closely with the Solomon Islands police force to make sure we do all we can to assist with restoring public order on the islands,” she said.

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

“It is purely to assist with securing critical infrastructure and to make sure we can assist the Solomon Islands police force to restore law and order as soon as that can possibly be done.”

Videos on social media showed buildings on fire.

Source: Supplied

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said it was likely the Australian deployment in the region would last for weeks.

While there was not an exact figure, she estimated there were 200 Australian citizens in the country.

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

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

China urges the Solomon Islands to protect its citizens

China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, expressed “grave concern” and called on the Solomon Islands government “to take all necessary measures to protect the safety of Chinese citizens and organisations”.

He mentioned the progress between the two countries in “economy, trade, infrastructure and education”.

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

Taiwan maintains its diplomatic ties with 15 countries only.

Several of its allies have severed ties in favour of China in recent years.

Additional reporting by AAP

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