Solomon Islands leader blames unrest on foreign powers

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

Critics also attributed the unrest to a lack of government services and accountability, corruption, and complaints from foreign workers taking the jobs of local people.

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

I am not going to bow down to anyone. We are united, the government is intact and we are going to defend democracyPM Manasseh Sogaware

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

Mr Sogaware 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”.

The external pressure was a “huge … effect”. I don’t want to be named. We will leave it there”, Mr. Sogaware said.

“I am not going to bow down to anyone. We are intact, the government is intact and we are going to defend democracy.”


Australian Federal Police Special Operations members prepare to move from Canberra to Honiara (LACW Jacqueline Forrester/Australian Defense Department/AP)

Australia’s Foreign Minister Maris Payne did not agree that other countries had sparked the unrest.

“We haven’t indicated that at all,” Ms Payne said.

“We have been very clear. Our view is that we do not want to see violence. We would very much expect stability to return,” she said.

Local journalist Gina Kekia said the foreign policy switch in 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 … take up most of the work, especially when it comes to extracting resources, which people feel strongly about,” Ms Keke told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Ms Kekia said protesters on Friday in Honiara’s hard-hit Chinatown had been replaced by looters and scavengers.

“It’s been two days, two full days of looting and protests and riots and Honiara is just a small town,” said Ms. Kekia. “So I guess now they don’t have much left to rob and spoil.”

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

Australia would not assist with the security of the national parliament and executive buildings, in a sign that Australia was not taking political sides.

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

But Mr Morrison said Mr Sogaware had sought help because he trusted Australia.

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