CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia announced on Thursday that it would send police, troops and diplomats to Solomon Islands to help …
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Australia announced on Thursday that it would send police, troops and diplomats to Solomon Islands to help after anti-government protesters defied lockdown orders and took to the streets for another day in violent protests.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deployment will include a division of 23 federal police officers and up to 50 more to provide security at critical infrastructure sites, as well as 43 defense force personnel, a patrol boat and at least five diplomats.
The first staff was to arrive Thursday night with several Fridays, and the broadcast was expected to last a few weeks, Morrison said.
“Our purpose here is to provide stability and security,” he said.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare declared a blockade on Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in protest in the capital, Honiara, demanding his resignation over a series of domestic issues.
Protesters broke into the national parliament building and burned the thatched roof of a nearby building, the government said. They also set fire to a police station and other buildings.
“They were determined to destroy our nation and … the confidence that was slowly building among our people,” the government said in a statement.
Morrison said Sogavare had requested assistance from Australia in the midst of the violence during a bilateral security deal.
“It is not the intention of the Australian Government to intervene in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands in any way. It is up to them to resolve,” he said.
“Our presence there indicates no position on the internal issues of the Solomon Islands,” Morrison added.
Sogavare ordered the capital closed from kl. 19 Wednesday to Friday at 19 after saying he had “witnessed yet another sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing down a democratically elected government.”
“I had honestly thought we had passed the darkest days in our country’s history,” he said. “But today’s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go.”
Despite an announcement from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force that they would carry out increased patrols through Honiara in the middle of the shutdown, protesters took to the streets again on Thursday.
Local journalist Gina Kekea posted pictures on Twitter of a bank, shops and a school in flames.
Morrison said he decided to send help after it became clear that Solomon Islands police were “stretched”.
Sogavare angered many in 2019, especially leaders of Solomon Islands’ most populous province of Malaita, as he severed the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan and shifted its diplomatic allegiance to China instead.
Local media reported that many of the protesters were from Malaita, whose prime minister Daniel Suidani has been at odds with Sogavare, 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 that he agreed with the calls for Sogavare to resign.
“Over the last 20 years that Mannaseh Sogavare has been in power, the situation for Solomon Islanders has worsened, while foreigners have at the same time reaped the best of the country’s resources,” Suidani was quoted as saying. “People are not blind to this and do not want to be cheated anymore.”
_____ Rising reported from Bangkok.
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