CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Friday blamed foreign interference in his government’s decision to shift alliances from Taiwan to Beijing for anti-government protests, arson and looting that have ravaged the capital Honiara in recent days.
But critics also blamed the unrest on complaints about lack of public services and accountability, corruption and Chinese companies giving jobs to foreigners instead of locals.
Honiara’s Chinatown and its center have been the focus of rioters, looting and protesters, who have demanded the resignation of Sogavare, who has been prime minister since 2000.
The National Parliament building, a police station and businesses have been set on fire during two tumultuous days in which police failed to control the mob.
Sogavare made many angry in 2019, especially leaders of Solomon Islands’ most populous province, Malaita, when he severed the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
Malaita leaders are complaining that their island has been unfairly deprived of government investment since the change.
A plane carrying Australian police and diplomats arrived in Honiara late Thursday, where they will help local police restore order, said Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton.
Sogavare said he stood by his government’s decision to embrace Beijing, which he described as the “only problem” in the violence, which “was unfortunately influenced and encouraged by other powers.”
External pressure was a “very big … influence. I do not want to name names. We leave it there,” Sogavare said.
“I do not want to bow to anyone. We are intact, the government is intact and we want to defend democracy, ”he added.
Australian Foreign Secretary Marise Payne did not agree that other countries had started the unrest.
“We have not specified that at all,” Payne said.
“We have been very clear. Our view is that we do not want to see violence. We very much hope for a return to stability,” she added.
Local journalist Gina Kekea said the foreign policy shift to Beijing with little public consultation was one of a mix of issues that led to the protests. There were also complaints that foreign companies did not provide local jobs.
“Chinese companies and (other) Asian companies … seem to have most of the work, especially when it comes to extracting resources that people feel strongly about,” Kekea said.
Protesters had been replaced by looters and scavengers on Friday in Chinatown, Kekea said.
“It’s been two days, two whole days of looting and protests and riots, and Honiara is just a small town,” Kekea said of the home to 85,000 people.
“So I think there’s not much left for them to plunder and pamper now,” she added.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday engaged troops, police and diplomats to help local police restore order and protect critical infrastructure.
Australia would not help protect the national parliament and the executive buildings, as a sign that Australia did not take political party.
Some observers have suggested that Australia intervene quickly to prevent Chinese security forces from intervening to restore order.
But Morrison said Sogavare had asked for help because he trusted Australia.
“The Solomon Islands first reached out to us … as a family because they trust us, and we’ve worked hard for that trust in the Pacific,” Morrison said.
“It’s our region and we stand up to secure our region with our partners, our friends, our family and allies,” he added.
Sogavare requested assistance from Australia under a bilateral security treaty that has existed 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, which restored peace in the country following bloody ethnic violence from 2003 to 2017.
Morrison questioned whether Chinese citizens and businesses were attacked. Describing the unrest as “a bit of a mixed story”, he noted that Chinatown was the scene of riots before Australia’s intervention in 2003.
China, meanwhile, expressed serious concern over the recent attacks on some Chinese citizens and institutions without giving details.
“We believe that under the leadership of Prime Minister Sogavare, 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 has benefited both sides.
“Any attempt to undermine the normal development of relations between China and Solomon is in vain,” he said.
Dutton said a plane carrying 23 federal police officers and several diplomats flew from the Australian capital Canberra to Honiara late Thursday.
Up to 50 more police officers as well as 43 defense forces with a Navy patrol boat were scheduled to arrive on Friday.
The Australian force would also be equipped to “provide a medical response,” Dutton said.
“It’s definitely a dangerous situation on earth. We’ve seen the riots that have taken place, the arson and the general disorder that is also there at the moment,” Dutton said.
“So there is a lot of work for the police to do on the spot,” he added.
Sogavare declared a blockade on Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in protest in Honiara and demanded his resignation due to 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.
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.”
Despite an announcement from the 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 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.
The Solomon Islands, about 1,500 kilometers (1,000 miles) northeast of Australia, were the scene of bloody battles during World War II.
After being captured by the Japanese, U.S. Marines landed on the island of Guadalcanal in August 1942 to launch a campaign to wrest control. They were successful, although fighting in and around the Solomon Islands continued through the end of the war.
Rising reported from Bangkok.
Disclaimers for mcutimes.com
All the information on this website - https://mcutimes.com - is published in good faith and for general information purpose only. mcutimes.com does not make any warranties about the completeness, reliability, and accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information you find on this website (mcutimes.com), is strictly at your own risk. mcutimes.com will not be liable for any losses and/or damages in connection with the use of our website.