Rioters Set Solomon Islands Prime Minister’s Building on Fire Amid Unrest

A building belonging to Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare was reportedly set alight by demonstrators who called for the prime minister’s resignation, as unrest in the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara continued for the third day.

Honiara has been hit by civil unrest since Nov. 24, which has since spiralled out of control of the local police, with looting and burning of shops in the Chinatown district.

Rioters had targeted one of Sogavare’s buildings and set it on fire, resulting in police firing tear gas and warning shots to disperse the crowd. The building set alight is not the prime minister’s main residence, but a second home that had previously been rented out.

The violent protest in Honiara stemmed from the government’s decision to switch its diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to Beijing, which strained relations between the traditionally pro-Taiwan Malaita province and the central government.

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

“I don’t want to name names, we’ll leave it there, we know who they are,” Sogavare said.

Critics also blamed the unrest on complaints of a lack of government services and accountability, corruption, and Chinese businesses giving jobs to foreigners instead of locals.

Meanwhile, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne disagreed that other countries had stirred up the unrest.

“We have not indicated that at all,” 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.

The government has enforced an indefinite 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily curfew in Honiara, in which only authorized officers are allowed to move within the city during curfew hours and anyone found breaching the restrictions will be prosecuted.

Australia has deployed Defence Force personnel and federal police to the Pacific island nation to help quell the unrest after receiving a formal request from Sogavare under a bilateral security agreement for security assistance and to support the Solomon Islands police force.

A plane carrying 23 federal police officers and several diplomats arrived on Nov. 25 in Honiara, while up to 50 more police arrived the following day to help local police efforts to restore order.

Australia’s Defence Minister Peter Dutton said the Australian force would also be equipped to “provide a medical response.”

“It’s certainly a dangerous situation on the ground. We’ve seen the rioting that’s taken place, the arson and the general disorder that’s there at the moment as well,” Dutton said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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