Australian police are taking control of the Solomon Islands capital after days of riot witnesses

CANBERRA, November 26 (Reuters) – A night curfew will be reintroduced in Solomon Islands’ capital Honiara after Australian police began taking control of hotspots after three days of violent protests in the South Pacific island nation, witnesses said.

The Ministry of Health said in a statement that the city’s clinics were closed and called on “all Honiara residents involved in arson, riots, looting to please stop immediately” after its ambulances had been stoned.

Tear gas was deployed in Chinatown, where looting and burning of buildings continued Friday morning, a resident told Reuters.

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A night exit ban would begin at 7 p.m., the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force said in a statement.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who asked for help from Australia, on Friday accused foreign countries of inciting the violent protests but did not name anyone.

Many of the protesters come from the most populous province of Malaita and feel overlooked by the government of Guadalcanal province and are opposed to its 2019 decision to end diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establish formal relations with China.

Malaita’s Prime Minister Daniel Suidani said in a statement this week that Sogavare had “raised the interest of foreigners over the interests of Solomon Islands” and should resign.

“I feel sorry for my people in Malaita because they are being fed false and deliberate lies about the shift,” Sogavare told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“These countries, which are now affecting Malaita, are the countries that do not want ties to the People’s Republic of China.”

China and Taiwan have been rivals in the South Pacific for decades, with some island nations shifting allegiance.

Smoke is seen after buildings were set on fire in Chinatown as Solomon Islands defied a government-imposed shutdown and protested in the capital, Honiara, Solomon Islands on November 25, 2021, in this still image taken from video provided on social media. Mandatory credit Georgina Kekea / via REUTERS

China regards Taiwan as an idiosyncratic province with no right to state-to-state ties, which the Taipei government strongly denies. Only 15 countries maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The last two to drop Taipei in favor of Beijing were the Solomon Islands and Kiribati in September 2019.

Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement to Reuters: “We have nothing to do with the unrest.”

Solomon Island resident Transform Aqorau said more than a hundred people looted shops on Friday before Australian federal police arrived.

“The scenes here are really chaotic. It’s like a war zone,” Aqorau told Reuters by telephone Friday morning.

“There is no public transport and it is a battle with the heat and the smoke. Buildings are still burning.”

He said Australian police later “took control of Chinatown”.

Neighboring Papua New Guinea also sent 35 police and security officers to Honiara on Friday.

Australian Foreign Secretary Marise Payne said Australia sent 100 police officers and was “clearly focused on stability in our region”.

Australian police were previously deployed to the Solomon Islands in 2003 during a peacekeeping mission approved by a Pacific Island Forum statement and stayed for a decade.

Severe internal unrest and armed conflict from 1998 to 2003 involved militant groups from Guadalcanal and the neighboring island of Malaita and fighting on the outskirts of Honiara.

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Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra, Kirsty Needham in Sydney and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Editing Michael Perry

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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