Solomon Islands leader blames unrest on foreign powers

Mr Sogavare angered many in 2019 when he cut the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

smoke rises from burning buildings during a protest in Honiara
smoke rises from burning buildings during a protest in Honiara

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has blamed foreign interference over his government’s decision to switch alliances from Taiwan to Beijing for anti-government protests, arson and looting that have ravaged the capital Honiara in recent days.

But critics also blamed the unrest on complaints of a lack of government services and accountability, corruption and foreign workers taking locals job.

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

A plane carrying Australian police and diplomats arrived late on Thursday in Honiara, where they will help local police efforts to restore order after a second day of violent anti-government protests, Australia’s defence minister Peter Dutton said.

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

External pressures were a “very big … influence. I don’t want to name names. We’ll leave it there”, Mr Sogavare said.

“I’m not going to bow down to anyone. We are intact, the government’s intact and we’re going to defend democracy,” he added.

Australian Federal Police Special Operations members prepare to depart Canberra
Australian Federal Police Special Operations members prepare to depart Canberra for Honiara (LACW Jacqueline Forrester/Australian Department of Defence/AP)

Australia’s foreign minister Marise Payne did not agree that other countries had stirred up the unrest.

“We have not indicated that at all,” Ms Payne said.

“We’ve been very clear. Our view is we don’t want to see violence. We would very much hope for a return to stability,” she added.

Local journalist Gina Kekea said the foreign policy switch to Beijing with little public consultation was one of a mix of issues that led to the protests. There were also complaints that foreign companies were not providing local jobs.

“Chinese businesses and (other) Asian businesses … seem to have most of the work, especially when it comes to extracting resources, which people feel strongly about,” Ms Kekea told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Protesters had been replaced by looters and scavengers on Friday in Honiara’s hard-hit Chinatown, Ms Kekea said.

“It’s been two days, two whole days of looting and protesting and rioting and Honiara is just a small city,” Ms Kekea said. “So I think that there’s nothing much left for them to loot and spoil now.”

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday committed troops, police and diplomats to help local police restore order and protect critical infrastructure.

Australia would not assist in the protection of the National Parliament and the executive buildings, in a sign that Australia was not taking political sides.

Some observers argue Australia intervened quickly to avoid Chinese security forces moving in to restore order.

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

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