More rioting in Solomons as PM faces resignation call

By: AFP      Published: 10:06 AM, 25 Nov, 2021
More rioting in Solomons as PM faces resignation call
A building burning next to the parliament in Honiara on Solomon Islands.–AFP

Fresh rioting broke out in the Solomon Islands' capital Honiara Thursday as Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare called for an end to the inter-island tensions that have plunged the Pacific nation into crisis.

Protesters defied a government lockdown imposed after widespread disorder in the capital on Wednesday, when demonstrators attempted to storm parliament and depose Sogavare.

The prime minister said his government was still in control.

"Today I stand before you to inform you all that our country is safe -- your government is in place and continues to lead our nation," Sogavare said, adding that those responsible "will face the full brunt of the law".

The rioters regrouped and again targeted Honiara's Chinatown area and ransacked a police station, a local resident told AFP.

The man, who did not want to be named, said police had erected roadblocks but the unrest showed no sign of abating.

"There's mobs moving around, it's very tense," the resident said, as local media reported looting and police using tear gas.

Other witnesses posted images on social media of smoke rising from the capital and said Chinese-owned businesses were being targeted.

Most of the protesters in Honiara are reportedly from the neighbouring island of Malaita, where people have long complained of neglect by central government.

The island's local government also strongly opposed the Solomons' decision to switch diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019, in a move engineered by Sogavare who critics says is too close to Beijing.

- 'Pent-up anger' -

Opposition leader Matthew Wale called on the prime minister to resign, saying frustration at controversial decisions made during his tenure had led to the violence.

"Regrettably, frustrations and pent-up anger of the people against the prime minister are spilling uncontrollably over onto the streets, where opportunists have taken advantage of the already serious and deteriorating situation," Wale said in a statement.

Similar inter-island rivalries led to the deployment of an Australian-led peacekeeping force in the Solomons from 2003 to 2017 and the unfolding situation will be closely monitored in Canberra and Wellington.

New Zealand's foreign ministry said Thursday it had not been approached by the Solomons' government for assistance. Australian officials have also been approached for comment.

There was rioting following general elections in 2006, with much of Honiara's Chinatown razed amid rumours that businesses with links to Beijing had rigged the vote.

Sogavare said those involved in the latest unrest had been "led astray" by unscrupulous people.

"I had honestly thought that we had gone past the darkest days in the history of our country, however... (these) events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go," he said.

"Hundreds of citizens took the law into their own hands today. They were intent on destroying our nation and... the trust that was slowly building among our people," the prime minister added.

"No one is above the law... these people will face the consequences of their actions," he said.