Australia sends police and troops to Solomon Islands as unrest escalates

Australia announced Thursday that it will send police, troops and diplomats to the Solomon Islands to help after anti-government protesters defied lockdown orders and took to the streets for a second day of violent protests.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deployment includes a detachment of 23 federal police officers and up to 50 others to provide security at critical infrastructure sites, as well as 43 Defense Force personnel, a patrol boat and at least five diplomats.

The first troop members left Australia on Thursday, more will go on Friday, and the deployment is expected to last for a few weeks, Morrison said.

“Our goal here is to provide stability and security,” he said.

Demands the resignation of the Prime Minister

Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavari announced the lockdown on Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in the capital Honiara, calling for his resignation over a host of internal issues.

It was not immediately clear why the protests erupted, but tensions between the government and the leadership of the most populous island, Malaita, have been simmering for some time. Local media reported that many of the protesters were from Malaita.

Malaita’s prime minister, Daniel Swedani, has openly criticized Sogavari’s 2019 decision to sever the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan, shifting its diplomatic allegiance to China instead, accusing him of getting too close to Beijing.

The governorate also complained of being unjustly deprived of government investment.

Swedani said he was not responsible for the violence in Honiara, but told the Solomon Star News he agreed with Sogavari’s calls to resign.

“Over the past twenty years in power, the plight of the Solomon Islanders has worsened while foreigners have at the same time harvested the best resources of the country,” Suwaidani was quoted as saying. “People aren’t blind to this and don’t want to be cheated anymore.”

Parliament building hack

The government said protesters broke into the National Parliament building on Wednesday and burned the thatched roof of an adjacent building. They also set fire to a police station and other buildings.

“They were intent on destroying our nation… the trust that was slowly cementing among our people,” the government said in a statement.

Morrison said Sogavary had sought help from Australia amid the violence under a bilateral security treaty.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, pictured, said the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands has requested security assistance from Australia under a bilateral treaty. (Lucas Koch/AAP/The Associated Press)

“It is not the intention of the Australian government to interfere in any way in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands. This is their business,” Morrison said.

“Our presence there does not indicate any position on the internal issues of the Solomon Islands,” he added.

After the protests erupted, Sogavari ordered the capital to be closed from 7 pm Wednesday until 7 pm Friday, after he said he had “witnessed another sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing down a democratically elected government”.

On the streets today

Despite the Solomon Islands police force announcing that it would increase patrols across Honiara amid the lockdown, protesters once again took to the streets on Thursday.

Local journalist Gina Kekia posted photos on Twitter of a bank, stores and a school on fire.

Morrison said he decided to send in help after police in the Solomon Islands turned out to be “exhausted”.

China expressed its grave concern about the attacks on some Chinese citizens and institutions, without providing details.

“We believe that under the leadership of Prime Minister Sugavari, the Solomon Islands government can restore social order and stability as soon as possible,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

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