Nothing left: Solomon Islanders wander torched capital as Australian troops arrive

Updated: November 26th, 2021 02:05 PM IST

Nothing left: Solomon Islanders wander torched capital as Australian troops arrive

Nothing left: Solomon Islanders wander torched capital as Australian troops arrive

As lockdown lifted in the capital of the Solomon Islands on Friday after two days of violent protests and looting, residents wandered the debris-strewn streets while burned-out buildings still smoldered and smoke rose into the sky.

Two dozen Australian federal police officers had arrived overnight as the tip of a 120-strong force aimed at quelling the unrest in the South Pacific island nation. Rioters had torched dozens of buildings, including Chinese-owned shops and part of the national Parliament complex.

As residents took to the streets on Friday after the end of a 36-hour lockdown in Honiara, however, there was not yet any sign of the Australian peacekeepers, according to local journalist Georgina Kekea. And rioting continued in the center and east of the city.

“It still hasn’t settled,” Kekea said in an interview. “I’ve been to Chinatown. There is basically nothing left there. There are only six buildings that are still standing, but otherwise most of the shops have been looted and burned. Scavengers are now … trying to look for whatever they can to carry back home.”

The violence had begun on Wednesday morning after hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the national Parliament building to demand Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare step down. Some demonstrators then set fire to a grass hut next to Parliament before torching a police station and several buildings in Chinatown.

The rioting continued on Thursday, as much of Chinatown went up in flames. On Thursday afternoon, Sogavare called his Australian counterpart to ask for help, and Scott Morrison announced he was sending about 80 Australian Federal Police officers and more than 40 military personnel.

Many of the protesters came to Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal, from Malaita, the most populous island in the archipelagic nation in the South Pacific, about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia.

Tensions have simmered between the two islands since the national government switched diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019, a move opposed by Malaita’s premier, Daniel Suidani, who claimed he had been offered a bribe to support the switch. Sogavare denied the accusation.

Suidani pledged Malaita would never engage with Beijing and terminated licenses of businesses owned by ethnic Chinese, drawing a rebuke from the national government.

“That’s the only issue,” he said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation published Friday. “And unfortunately, it is influenced and encouraged by other powers.”

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