Prime Minister of Solomon Islands blames foreign interference for violent anti-government protests

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogaware has blamed foreign interference in his government’s decision to switch alliances from Taiwan to Beijing for the anti-government protests, arson and looting that has ravaged the capital Honiara for the past three days.

However, critics have also attributed the unrest to a lack of government services and accountability, corruption and complaints from foreign workers taking up local jobs. In 2019, Sogaware also angered many, notably the leaders of Malaita, the most populous province of the Solomon Islands, when he The country broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan,

Witnesses said Australian police began controlling Honara on Friday. A resident told Reuters that tear gas was used in Chinatown, where looting and burning of buildings continued on Friday morning and a new curfew was expected to be imposed later in the day.

Solomon Islands resident Transform Akorou said more than a hundred people were looting shops on Friday before Australian federal police officers arrived.

“The scenes here are really chaotic. It’s like a war zone,” Akorou told Reuters by telephone on Friday morning. “There is no public transport and it is a struggle with heat and smoke. Buildings are still burning.” He later added that Australian police were “taking control of Chinatown”.

Australian broadcaster ABC meanwhile reported that rioters targeted its compound in Sogaware, setting a building on fire. Local police proceeded to stop the attack, reportedly firing warning shots.

Australia said on Thursday that Deploy over 100 police and defense force personnel To support “riot control” and security on critical infrastructure.

Sogaware said on Friday he stood by his government’s decision to embrace Beijing over Taiwan, which he described as “the only issue” in the violence, which was “unfortunately influenced and encouraged by other powers”.

The external pressure was a “huge … effect”. I don’t want to be named. We will leave it there,” Sogaware said. “I am not going to bow down to anyone. We are intact, the government is intact and we are going to defend democracy.”

Protesters set fire to buildings and looted businesses in Honiara. Photo: Charlie Piringi/AFP/Getty Images

Australian Foreign Minister Maris Payne did not agree that other countries had fueled the unrest. “We haven’t indicated that at all,” Payne said. “We have been very clear. Our view is that we do not want to see violence. We would very much expect stability to return,” she said.

Local journalist Gina Kekia said the foreign policy switch in Beijing with little public consultation was one of a mix of issues that led to the protests. There were also complaints that foreign companies were not providing local jobs.

“Chinese business and [other] Asian businesses … seem to have the most work, especially when it comes to extracting resources, which people feel strongly about,” Keke told ABC.

Kekia said protesters were replaced by robbers and scavengers on Friday in the hard-hit Chinatown of Honiara. “It’s been two days, two full days of looting and protests and riots and Honiara is just a small town,” Kekea said. “So I guess now they don’t have much left to rob and spoil.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday Committed Soldiers, Police and Diplomats To help the local police restore order and protect critical infrastructure. Australia would not assist with the security of the national parliament and executive buildings, in a sign that Australia was not taking political sides.

Some observers argue that Australia intervened quickly to avoid moving Chinese security forces to restore order. But Morrison said Sogaware had sought help because he trusted Australia.

“The Solomon Islands reached us first … as family because they trust us and we have worked hard to build that trust in the Pacific,” Morrison said. “This is our territory and we stand with our allies, our friends, our family and allies to secure our territory.”

Sogaware requested assistance from Australia under a bilateral security treaty that dates back to 2017, when Australian peacekeepers last left the Solomon Islands.

Australia led an international police and military force called the Regional Assistance Mission for the Solomon Islands, which restored peace to the country after bloody ethnic violence from 2003 to 2017.

Meanwhile, China expressed serious concern about the recent attacks on some Chinese citizens and institutions, without giving details.

“We believe that the Solomon Islands government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sogaware, can restore social order and stability as soon as possible,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday.

He said economic and other cooperation has benefited both sides since the establishment of diplomatic relations. “Any attempt to undermine the normal development of China-Solomon relations is in vain,” he said.

A building next to the Parliament House in Honiara was torched on Wednesday.
A building next to the Parliament House in Honiara was torched on Wednesday. Photograph: Courtesy of Charlie Piringhi / AFP / Getty Images

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said the Australian military would also be equipped to “provide medical response”. “It is definitely a dangerous situation on the ground. We have seen the rioting, arson and general disorder which is there even at this time,” he said. “So the police have to do a lot of work at the grassroots level.”

Sogaware announced the lockdown on Wednesday after nearly 1,000 people gathered in a protest in Honiara to demand his resignation over domestic issues.

The government said the protesters ransacked the National Parliament building and burnt the thatched roof of a nearby building. They also set a police station and other buildings on fire.

Sogaware ordered the closure of the capital from 7 pm on Wednesday to 7 pm on Friday, saying he witnessed “another sad and unfortunate incident aimed at toppling a democratically elected government”.

Local media reported that many of the protesters were from Malaita, whose chief, Daniel Suidani, accompanied Sogaware, whom he accuses of being too close to Beijing.

Suidani said he was not responsible for the violence in Honiara, but told Solomon Star News he agreed with Sogaware’s call for resignation.