Violence recedes in Solomon Islands

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA (AP) – Violence receded yesterday in the capital of the Solomon Islands, but the government showed no signs of addressing the underlying grievances that sparked two days of riots, including concerns about the country’s increasing links with China.

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare sought to deflect attention from domestic issues by blaming outside interference for stirring up the protesters.

External pressures were a “very big… influence. I don’t want to name names. We’ll leave it there,” Sogavare said.

Honiara’s Chinatown and its downtown precinct were focusses of rioters, looters and protesters who demanded the resignation of Sogavare, who has intermittently been prime minister since 2000.

“Most of the drivers of the tension have been in the country for many decades and generations, and a lot of it is born out of the abject poverty of the country, the limited economic development opportunities and the inter-ethnic and inter-island rivalry between the two most populous islands,” said Jonathan Pryke, director of the Sydney-based Lowy Institute think tank’s Pacific Islands programme.

“So everyone’s pointing fingers, but some fingers also need to be pointed at the political leaders of the Solomon Islands.”

People walk through the looted streets of Chinatown in Honiara, Solomon Islands. PHOTO: AP

The Solomon Islands, with a population of about 700,000, are located about 1,500 kilometres northeast of Australia.

Internationally they are probably still best known for the bloody fighting that took place there during World War II between the United States (US) and Japan.

Riots and looting erupted Wednesday out of a peaceful protest in Honiara, primarily of people from Malaita demonstrating over a number of grievances.

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators, who set fire to the National Parliament, a police station and many other buildings.

Protesters defied a lockdown declared by Sogavare on Wednesday to take to the streets again on Thursday.

A plane carrying Australian police and diplomats arrived late Thursday in Honiara to help local police restore order. Up to 50 more Australian police as well 43 defence force personnel with a navy patrol boat arrived yesterday.