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Australian police seize control of Solomon Islands capital after days of unrest – witnesses By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Smoke is seen after buildings in Chinatown caught fire as residents of the Solomon Islands defied a government-imposed blockade and protested in the capital, Honiara, Solomon Islands, on November 25, 2021, in this still image taken from a video provided by

By Colin Packham and Kirsty Needham

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australian police began seizing control of Solomon Islands capital Honiara on Friday after days of violent protests in the South Pacific island nation, witnesses said.

Tear gas was deployed in Chinatown, where looting and burning of buildings continued on Friday morning and a new curfew was expected to be imposed later that day, a resident told Reuters.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who appealed to Australia for help, on Friday blamed foreign countries for stoking the violent protests, but did not name any.

Many of the protesters come from the more populous province of Malaita and feel ignored by the Guadalcanal province government and oppose its 2019 decision to end diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establish formal ties with China.

“I feel sorry for my people in Malaita because they feed on deliberate and false lies about change,” Sogavare told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“These same countries that are now influencing Malaita are the countries that do not want ties with the People’s Republic of China, and they are discouraging the Solomon Islands from entering into diplomatic relations and complying with international law and the United Nations resolution.”

China and Taiwan have been rivals in the South Pacific for decades and some island nations have switched alliances.

China views Taiwan as a wayward province with no right to state-to-state ties, which the Taipei government hotly disputes. Only 15 countries have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The last two to ditch Taipei in favor of Beijing were the Solomon Islands and Kiribati in September 2019.

Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou said in a statement to Reuters: “We have nothing to do with the unrest.”

Solomon Islands resident Transform Aqorau said more than 100 people looted shops on Friday, before Australian Federal Police officers arrived.

“The scenes here are really chaotic. It’s like a war zone,” Aqorau told Reuters by phone on Friday morning.

“There is no public transport and it is a struggle with the heat and smoke. The buildings are still burning.”

He later said that Australian police were “taking over Chinatown.”

A statement on the Solomon Islands government website said public servants, with the exception of essential workers, should stay home “due to the current unrest in the city of Honiara.”

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was dispatching 100 police officers and was “clearly focused on stability in our region.”

Australian police were previously dispatched to the Solomon Islands in 2003 under a peacekeeping mission authorized by a statement from the Pacific Islands Forum and remained there for a decade.

Serious internal unrest and the armed conflict from 1998 to 2003 involved militant groups from Guadalcanal and the neighboring island of Malaita, and clashes on the outskirts of Honiara.

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