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Protesters in Solomon Islands defy government lockdown

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Friday blamed foreign interference for his government’s decision to move the alliance from Taiwan to Beijing because of anti-government protests, Burning and looting ravaged the capital Honiara in recent days.

However, critics have also blamed the unrest on complaints about a lack of government services and accountability, corruption and local foreign workers.

Sogavare angered many in 2019, especially the leaders of the Solomon Islands’ most populous province, Malaita, when he severed the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Defense Minister Peter Dutton said a plane carrying Australian police and diplomats had arrived in Honiara late on Thursday, where they would help local police efforts to restore order after a second day of action. violent protests against the government, Defense Secretary Peter Dutton said.

Sogavare said he stood by the government’s decision to embrace Beijing, which he described as “the only problem” in the riot, which was “unfortunately influenced and encouraged by other powers.”

External pressure is a “huge … very big. I don’t want to name it. We’ll leave it at that,” Sogavare said.

“I will not bow to anyone. We are intact, the government is intact and we will defend democracy,” he added.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne disagrees that other countries have stirred up the unrest.

“We didn’t point it out,” Payne said.

“We have been very clear. Our position is that we do not want to see violence. We are very hopeful for stability again,” she added.

Local journalist Gina Kekea said the foreign policy shift to Beijing with little public consultation was one of the intertwined issues that led to the protests. There are also complaints that foreign companies do not provide local jobs.

Kekea told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

Kekea said protesters were replaced by looters and looters Friday in Honiara’s hard-hit Chinatown.

Kekea said: “It’s been two days, two days of looting, protests and riots and Honiara is just a small city. “So I think there’s not much left for them to loot and spoil now.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday pledged the army, police and diplomats would help local police restore order and protect critical infrastructure.

Australia will not assist in the defense of the National Parliament and executive buildings, as a sign that Australia is not on the political side.

Some observers say Australia quickly intervened to avoid Chinese security forces entering to restore order.

But Morrison said Sogavare asked for help because he trusted Australia.

“The Solomon Islands contacted us first … like 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 are standing up to defend our region with our partners, friends, family and allies,” he added.

Sogavare has requested assistance from Australia under a bilateral security treaty dating back to 2017, when Australian peacekeepers last left the Solomon Islands.

Australia has led an international police and military force known as the Regional Support Mission to the Solomon Islands to restore peace in the country following bloody ethnic violence between 2003 and 2017.

Meanwhile, China expressed serious concern about the recent attacks against some Chinese citizens and organizations without providing details.

“We believe that under Prime Minister Sogavare’s leadership, the Solomon Islands government can restore social order and stability as soon as possible,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Thursday. Year.

He said that economic cooperation and other fields since the establishment of diplomatic relations have brought benefits to both sides.

“Any attempt to undermine the normal development of China-Solomon relations is futile,” he said.

Mr Dutton said a plane carrying 23 federal police officers and a number of diplomats had flown from the Australian capital Canberra to Honiara late on Thursday.

More than 50 police officers as well as 43 defense force personnel with navy patrol boats are expected to arrive on Friday.

Australian forces will also be equipped to “deliver a medical response”, Dutton said.

“It’s definitely a dangerous situation on the ground. We’ve seen riots take place, arson and general unrest going on at the moment,” Dutton said.

“So there’s a lot of work for the police to do on the ground,” he added.

Sogavare announced the lockdown on Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in protest in Honiara, demanding his resignation over a series of domestic problems.

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

Sogavare ordered the capital closed from 7pm on Wednesday to 7pm on Friday after saying he had “witnessed another sad and regrettable event aimed at bringing down an elected government”. democratic election.”

Despite an announcement from the Solomon Islands police force that they would be conducting increased patrols through Honiara amid the lockdown, protesters took to the streets again on Thursday.

Local media reported that many of the protesters were from Malaita, whose prime minister, Daniel Suidani, was at odds with Sogavare, who he accused of being too close to Beijing.

Suidani said he was not responsible for the violence in Honiara, but told Solomon Star News he agreed with calls for Sogavare to step down.

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David Rising reports from Bangkok.

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