Buildings set on fire on second day of anti-government protests in Solomon Islands

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Several buildings were set on fire Thursday in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, as thousands of protesters stormed the city’s Chinatown in a second day of anti-government riots.

Eyewitnesses and local media reported that crowds defied the government lockdown to take to the streets.

Live images showed several buildings engulfed in flames and plumes of thick black smoke rising above the capital.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has pledged to track down rioters who tried to storm parliament, while the Pacific island capital Honiara remained in custody after the unrest on Thursday .

Hundreds of people demanding Sogavare’s resignation marched in front of Parliament on Wednesday, torching a thatched-roof hut near the Legislative Assembly before moving to Honiara’s Chinatown, torching a police station and looting shops before that the police did not fire tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Sogavare ordered an immediate curfew in Honiara, describing the unrest as a “sad and unfortunate event aimed at overthrowing a democratically elected government”.

“The 36-hour lockdown will allow law enforcement to thoroughly investigate the perpetrators of today’s events and prevent further illegal destruction of property,” he said in a statement published Wednesday evening.

The violence reportedly involved a group of protesters who traveled to Honiara this week from the neighboring island of Malaita.

Their grievances are believed to involve perceived neglect on the part of the central government and lingering dissatisfaction with the Solomons’ decision to change diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019.

Many communities in Malaita have forged close ties with Taipei, and the island’s local government has repeatedly complained of embracing China, refusing aid projects funded by Beijing.

Such inter-island tensions sparked unrest that led to the deployment of an Australian-led peacekeeping force from 2003 to 2017 in the country of 660,000 people, located 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles ) in northeastern Australia.

There were riots following the 2006 general election, with much of Honiara’s Chinatown razed amid rumors that Beijing-linked companies rigged the vote.

Sogavare said those involved in the latest unrest had been “led astray” by unscrupulous people.

“I honestly thought we were past the darkest days in our country’s history, yet (these) events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go,” he said.

He added: “Hundreds of citizens have taken justice for themselves today. They intended to destroy our nation and (…) the confidence that was slowly building among our people.

“However, today I stand before you to inform you that our country is safe – your government is in place and continues to lead our nation.”

Sogavare said those responsible “will be brought to justice and face the full brunt of the law.”

“No one is above the law (…) these people will face the consequences of their actions,” he said.

(France 24 with AFP)

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