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Solomon Islands: Here’s behind the riots

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MELBOURNE, Australia Protests rocked the Solomon Islands capital on Thursday for the second day in a row as people clashed with police and demanded that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare resign. Some set fire to buildings and looted shops.

Protesters were greeted with tear gas and rubber bullets Wednesday after they attacked the national parliament in the capital, Honiara, and set up a police station and buildings in Chinatown on fire, said the authorities. On Thursday, more buildings were set on fire. In large numbers, police set up a heavily guarded barricade to stop demonstrators from entering the city’s main business district.

On Thursday afternoon, the Australian government announced that, following a request for help from Mr. Sogavare, it would send a peacekeeping force to the Solomon Islands.

Here is what we know about the riots.

Many of the protesters had traveled from the island of Malaita to the island of Guadalcanal, which houses the capital of nations, according to officials and local news reports.

Experts say discontent has been simmering for decades between the two islands, largely due to a perceived unequal distribution of resources and a lack of economic support that has left Malaita one of the least developed provinces on the island nation.

There has also been persistent resentment in Malaita over the central government’s decision in 2019 to transfer diplomatic allegiance to Beijing from Taipei, Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its territory.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry accused Beijing of bribing Solomon politicians to leave Taipei on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party.

The Solomon Islands are an archipelago of nearly a thousand islands in the Pacific, about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia. The island chain has a population of 710,000, mostly farmers and fishermen.

Malaita is the most populous of the islands, with populations numbering 160,500 since last year. Densely forested, mountainous and volcanic, it lies 30 miles northeast of Guadalcanal, the largest island, along the necessary strait.

The island nation found itself in an increased geopolitical retreat due to the 2019 decision, which dealt a blow to both Taipei’s global position and Washington regional diplomacy.

The United States sees the Solomon Islands and other Pacific nations as crucial in preventing China from strengthening its influence in the region.

China has invested heavily in the Pacific, to the alarm of US officials. In 2019, a Chinese company signed an agreement to lease one of the islands, but the deal was subsequently declared illegal by the Solomon Islands Attorney General.

This is not the first time China’s presence on the islands has been a source of contention. In 2006, riots erupted amid rumors that the election of an unpopular prime minister was influenced by Chinese or Taiwanese money.

Some experts draw a straight line from the 2019 decision to the riots of these weeks.

After the riots there was a lot of dissatisfaction with that change, said Sinclair Dinnen, an associate professor in the Department of Pacific Affairs at Australian National Universities.

The Prime Minister of Malaita, Daniel Suidani, has been a vocal critic of that decision by the Prime Minister and Malaita continues to maintain a relationship and receive support from Taiwan contrary to the central government position, said Mihai Sora, a researcher at Lowy. Institute and a former Australian diplomat based in the Solomon Islands.

With the United States offering Malaysia direct foreign aid As China backs the central government, existing breaches in the country have deepened, he said.

Geostrategic competition does not in itself cause unrest, Mr. Sora said, but it is the actions of these great nations as they nurture sympathy with local actors who favor some over others to pursue their strategic objectives without stopping to consider what is already deep. social and political. underwater currents in the country that have a destabilizing effect on social cohesion.

After hundreds of people took to the streets and set fire to a building near Parliament, Mr. Sogavare announced a 36-hour curfew: from 7pm on Wednesday until 7pm on Friday.

He accused the protesters of being politically motivated, saying in a video speech: Today our nation witnessed another sad and unfortunate event aimed at overthrowing a democratically elected government.

Mr Sogavare vowed that authorities would find the organizers of the protests and bring them to justice.

The Chinese Embassy in Honiara said in a statement published on social networks On Wednesday he urged the Solomon Islands to take all necessary measures to strengthen the protection of Chinese businesses and people. He also advised Chinese residents in high-risk areas to close their businesses and hire security guards.

On Thursday, she noted that many shops, banks and warehouses had been burned.

Inter-island tensions sparked civil conflict between militias on the two main islands from 1998 to 2003, during a period known as the tensions. This led to the establishment of a Peacekeeping force led by Australia and New Zealand from 2003 to 2017.

On Thursday afternoon, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that his country would send more than 100 police officers and military forces to the Solomon Islands to provide stability and security. Twenty-three police officers would arrive immediately (up to 50 others could make the trip) and 43 military personnel would follow.

Mr Sora, a former Australian diplomat, said that although small-scale civil unrest had not been uncommon in recent years and that local police had been able to control such episodes, recent protests had escalated significantly beyond what local authorities could . treat.

On Tuesday, before the protests began, but after the Malays had begun to gather in the capital, a group of Malayan federal members of Parliament called on Mr. Sweden and protest leaders to refrain from inciting Malays to engage in illegal activities. They too appealed to opposition parliamentarians refrain from igniting flames of violence and incitement.

But as of Thursday, 15 buildings had been burned or burned in Chinatown, as well as 10 others in a nearby industrial area, according to Nathan Ruser, a researcher at the Australian Institute for Strategic Policy. He linked videos and field photos to area maps to estimate the number.

VIDEOS posted on social media showed large crowds gathering in the Chinese Quarter as plumes of smoke billowed from the buildings.

Individuals and other groups had participated in the protests for various reasons, said Dr. Dinnen. The machinations of the political opposition to overthrow the government and the opportunist rebels, had contributed to the size of the crowds, he said.

Elizabeth Osifelo contributed reporting from Honiara, Solomon Islands.

Sources

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2/ https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/25/world/asia/solomon-islands-riot.html

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