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Solomon Islands protesters defy government lockdown orders

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – Australia announced on Thursday it has sent police, the military and diplomats to the Solomon Islands to help after anti-government protesters defied lockdown orders and took to the streets for a second day. in violent protests.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deployment would include a detachment of 23 federal police and more than 50 others to ensure security at critical infrastructure sites, as well as 43 national force personnel. room, a patrol boat and at least five diplomats.

The first employees will arrive on Thursday night, with more coming on Friday, and the rollout is expected to last for a few weeks, Morrison said.

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

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of the Solomon Islands announced a lockdown on Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in protest in the capital, 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.

“They intend to destroy our nation and … trust is slowly being built in our people,” the government said in a statement.

Morrison said Sogavare had asked for assistance from Australia amid the violence under the bilateral security treaty.

He said: “Interfering in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands is not the intention of the Australian government. It is for them to deal with.”

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

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

Sogavare ordered the closure of the capital 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.”

“I really think we’ve had some of the darkest days in our country’s history,” he said. “However, today’s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go.”

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 journalist Gina Kekea posted photos on Twitter of a bank, shops and a school engulfed in flames.

Morrison said he decided to send help after it became clear that police in the Solomons were “stressed”.

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

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.

“In the past 20 years Mannaseh Sogavare has been in power, the plight of the people of Solomon Islands has become worse and worse while at the same time foreigners have exploited the best resources of the country,” said Suidani. “People aren’t blind to this and don’t want to be fooled anymore.”

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Increased reporting from Bangkok.

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