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26 Nov, 2021 13:52

Anti-China riots on island incited from abroad, premier says

Anti-China riots on island incited from abroad, premier says

The latest rioting in the Solomon Islands’ capital and its Chinatown had been incited from abroad, the country’s prime minister claimed. Australian police officers have landed in the troubled country to help restore public order.

In an interview with Australia’s ABC news channel on Friday, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare refused to name the nations he suspected were behind the unrest, adding, however, that “we know who they are.” Sogavare insisted the only real bone of contention that led to the chaotic scenes earlier this week was the country’s closer ties with China. He dismissed as tangential all the other complaints – such as the central government’s alleged failure to provide infrastructure to the region – raised by protesters, who predominantly come from the Malaita Province.

The Solomon Islands’ prime minister said he stood by his 2019 decision to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of China, which raised more than a few eyebrows in the Malaita Province, adding that the switch put the “Solomon Islands on the right side of history and it is in line with international law.” He also claimed the residents of the restive region are being “fed with false and deliberate lies” about the move.

Overnight, a 23-strong group of Australian Federal Police officers landed in the capital city of Honiara at the request of Prime Minister Sogavare. An additional 93 Australian security personnel are on their way to the troubled country. Australia’s Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, told ABC news on Friday that the contingent’s sole mission was to “assist the Solomon Islands police force to restore law and public order as soon as we possibly can,” with no intention to intervene in the country’s internal political affairs.

Long-standing tensions between the Solomon Islands’ central government and the Malaita Province came to a head on Wednesday when hundreds of protesters descended on the Pacific nation’s capital, encircling the parliament and demanding to be let in. Police tried to prevent them from entering the compound, reportedly firing tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd. At some point, a hut on the parliament's grounds where lawmakers go for lunch breaks was set on fire. After police reinforcements arrived at the scene the mob dissipated; however, looting and mayhem continued across the capital, with a number of Chinese businesses and a police station burnt down as a result.

From 1999 until 2003, the Solomon Islands were in the grip of ethnic violence, with various militias slugging it out across the country. Back then it took the intervention of an international Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) led by Australia and New Zealand to put an end to the violence that left thousands of people dead, injured or internally displaced.

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