Pro-Beijing Solomon Islands Prime Minister Survives Confidence Vote, Blames Crisis on “Taiwan Agents”

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Ailing Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare survived a vote of no confidence on Monday while accusing “Taiwan agents” of orchestrating the recent political violence that plunged the Pacific island nation into crisis.

The pro-Beijing leader comfortably foiled an opposition attempt to oust him, winning 32 to 15 after a day of heated and angry debate.

The feverish scenes in parliament – in which lawmakers exchanged allegations of corruption, coups and shadowy foreign support – echoed recent anger in the streets that prompted the arrival of hundreds of international peacekeepers .

Three days of riots at the end of last month left the Chinatown of the capital Honiara in ruins and left at least three people dead, with dozens of buildings destroyed.

Ahead of Monday’s vote, armed troops and police from neighboring Australia, Fiji, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand helped operate checkpoints in the soggy town center of Honiara to prevent further disorders.

They used shipping containers to seal rubble-strewn areas of the capital, closed the port to ferries from neighboring islands, and enforced a city-wide alcohol ban.

Authorities have also warned people against posting inflammatory statements on social media. The prospect of further violence prompted the US consulate in Honiara to restrict its operations.

The crisis erupted late last month when protests against Sogavare’s policies turned violent, fueled by poverty, unemployment and inter-island rivalry in the country of 800,000 people.

The prime minister refused protesters’ demands to resign, telling parliament on Monday that leaving office under such circumstances would be to surrender “to the dictates of hooligans and anarchy”.

“We cannot accept that violence is used to overthrow a democratically elected government,” he said.

Large numbers of people were seen leaving the capital for the provinces on chartered ferries on Sunday ahead of the no-confidence vote, expecting further problems.

Many of Sogavare’s detractors are from Malaita. Locals believe that the country’s most populous island does not receive a fair share of resource revenues and is neglected by the central government.

An underlying complaint against Sogavare is his 2019 decision to transfer Honiara’s diplomatic allegiance to China from Taiwan, which had close ties to Malaita.

‘Foreign cronies’ China and Taiwan have been vying for influence in the Pacific for decades, with both sides using development aid as bait, as Beijing tries to isolate rival it sees as a resilient rogue province to unification.

Sogavare said the opposition conspired with Taiwan to incite unrest around the 2019 change as part of a “coup attempt,” although he offered no solid evidence.

“If I am to be fired, it must be through legal process, by members of parliament, not by calls for the resignation of Taiwan officials,” the 66-year-old said in an often angry parliamentary speech two hours.

>> With heightened rhetoric, is the United States moving away from “strategic ambiguity” over Taiwan?

At one point, the veteran leader stood up and slammed his chair up and down while yelling at Opposition Leader Matthew Wale, who introduced the motion.

Wale accused Sogavare of using Chinese funds to support his government, saying “foreign cronies” were allowed to strip the country’s natural assets.

The opposition leader condemned the riots last month, but added “it is nothing compared to the looting taking place at the top at the expense of ordinary Solomon Islands residents.”

Wale claimed that Beijing and Sogavare were channeling the payments to gain support ahead of the no-confidence vote.

The central bank valued the damage caused by the riots at $ 67 million, saying 63 buildings in the capital were set on fire and looted.

He said the unrest would cost around 1,000 jobs and stifle economic growth, warning that the country was experiencing “development in reverse.”

(AFP)

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