Protesters from the country’s most populous island, Malaita, had marched into the capital in outbursts of anger over a host of domestic issues, including unfulfilled infrastructure promises, media reported. They demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogevare.
The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) said between 2,000 and 3,000 protesters took to the streets on Thursday, with some torching buildings and looting shops in the eastern part of Honiara. Thirty-six people were arrested, they added.
Protests erupted on Wednesday evening as Parliament resumed over the Prime Minister’s lack of response to a citizens’ petition filed in August, which included demands for the government to respect the self-determination rights of the Malaita people, to limit the links with China and to resume development projects in Malaita.
Police had previously used tear gas to disperse protests.
When he called for the lockdown in an address broadcast Wednesday evening, Prime Minister Sogavare said: “Our nation has witnessed yet another sad and unfortunate event aimed at overthrowing a democratically elected government.”
âI honestly thought we were past the darkest days in our country’s history, but today’s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go,â Sogavare said.
A lockdown in Honiara, which is said to last until 7 a.m. Friday, local time, “will allow our law enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate the perpetrators of today’s events and prevent further anarchic destruction “, he declared.
In addition to looting shops, protesters set fire to a thatched-roof building on Parliament grounds – while it was sitting – and a police station, the prime minister said.
The RSIPF urged people attending schools and businesses around Honiara to stay in their homes to avoid being affected by the unrest.
“We want to make sure that our streets, schools and businesses will reopen soon after the lockdown,” RSIPF Deputy Commissioner Juanita Matanga said in a statement.
“I ask for your cooperation until the situation returns to normal.”
Australia sends troops and police
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Thursday that members of the Australian Federal Police had been deployed to the Solomon Islands to “provide stability and security”.
Morrison said he had received a formal request under a bilateral security agreement for assistance and support to the RSIPF. Australia has agreed to send 23 AFP staff to support riot control and up to 50 others to support the security of critical infrastructure, he said.
43 other members of the Australian Defense Force will also be deployed.
“We hope and ambition that our presence will seek to calm the situation in the Solomon Islands and restore some peace which will allow normal peaceful means to seek to resolve all the problems there, which Australia has no part in. directly resolve and allow the normal constitutional processes and political processes in the Solomon Islands to take their course, âMorrison said.
What is the connection between China and Taiwan?
Solomon Islands was one of a handful of countries that had diplomatic ties with the democratic autonomous island of Taiwan, but in 2019, the archipelago swapped allegiances to China. Beijing views Taiwan as part of China and refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that does not recognize its “one-China policy.”
While longtime Prime Minister Sogavare praised China and the economic benefits it promised, the premier of the country’s most populous province, Malaita, said he was adamantly opposed to the change. Suidani even announced a referendum on Malaita’s independence.
In October 2020, the United States Agency for International Development announced a $ 25 million grant under its program to strengthen competitiveness, agriculture, livelihoods and the environment. focused on Malaita province.
âThe SCALE program will strengthen the enabling environment to unlock economic opportunities and increase trade; improve the management of natural resources, including forest governance; promote the development of agro-industry and small businesses; and expand small-scale critical infrastructure and essential services, âa statement from the US State Department. noted.
The grant to Malaita was part of a $ 200 million program of new funding across the Indo-Pacific under the United States Pacific Pledge.
According to Mihai Sora, a researcher in the Pacific Islands program at Australia’s Lowy Institute, the grant was “50 times what the province would normally get in a year from donors.”
CNN has contacted the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu for comment.
While the United States does not have official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, the two sides have drawn closer in recent years, angering Beijing. The United States sells weapons to the island under the Taiwan Relations Act, which states that the United States must help Taipei defend itself. Washington transferred formal diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.
CNN’s Brad Lendon, Hilary Whiteman and Julia Hollingsworth contributed reporting.