Buildings on fire, thousands of demonstrators invading the Chinatown of Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands… Nothing seems to stop the protest in this Pacific archipelago, Thursday November 25, despite the curfew imposed following the riots from yesterday.
On Wednesday, hundreds of people demonstrated to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. In the Chinatown of Honiara, a police station was set on fire and businesses were looted until the police intervened with tear gas. Following these incidents, Mr. Sogavare ordered an immediate curfew in the capital, deploring a “Sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing down a democratically elected government”.
Australia also announced Thursday morning that it would deploy a peacekeeping force to the Solomon Islands. “Our goal here is to ensure stability and security”Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, claiming to have received a request for assistance from his Solomon Islands counterpart.
The Solomon Islands government has come under pressure since a decision in 2019 to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal ties with China, pushing the neighboring island of Malaita – one of the nine provinces that form the Solomon Islands – to consider a referendum for its independence.
Protesters from the neighboring island of Malaita
Demonstrators from Malaita are said to have taken part in the violence affecting the capital, to protest against this decision. The Solomons had chosen to recognize Taiwan in 1983, and many residents of Malaita had close ties with Taipei. The government of this island has regularly criticized Honiara for having approached Beijing in this way.
China on Thursday morning announced its “Great concern”. “We call on the government of the Solomon Islands to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and Chinese entities”Chinese diplomacy spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
The Solomon Islands, independent from the United Kingdom since 1978, had sunk into inter-ethnic violence in the early 2000s. New tensions had already led to the deployment of an Australian-led peace force between 2003 and 2013.
Riots notably broke out in Honiara’s Chinatown during the 2006 legislative elections, following rumors that companies close to Beijing had rigged the vote.
Opposition leader Matthew Wale urged Sogavare to resign, assuring that the unrest would not end with a police-framed curfew. “Unfortunately, the frustrations and the anger that the people have returned against the Prime Minister are spreading uncontrollably in the streets, where opportunists are taking advantage of the situation”, he said in a statement.