Solomon Islands police find 3 bodies after violent protests
Canberra Solomon Islands police have found three bodies in a burning building and arrested more than 100 people in this week’s violence sparked by concerns about the Pacific nation’s growing ties with China.
Australian media reported that the bodies were recovered late on Friday after the riots and protests subsided. No other details were mentioned.
Authorities imposed a curfew in the capital, Honiara, after a 36-hour lockdown ordered by embattled Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavari, that expired on Friday.
Sogavary blamed outside interference for sparking protests calling for his resignation, in a veiled reference to Taiwan and the United States.
The city of Sugavari has been widely criticized by leaders of the country’s most populous island of Malaita for its decision in 2019 to cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of mainland China. Beijing claims that the autonomous island of Taiwan is part of its territory.
Meanwhile, his government was resentful of the millions of American aid it had promised directly to Malaita, rather than through the central government on the largest island of Guadcanal, where Honiara is located. The two islands have been rivals for decades.
Andrew Yang, a professor at National Sun Yat-sen University in Taiwan and a former deputy defense minister, said China’s efforts to gain diplomatic recognition from the Solomon Islands are part of a competition for regional dominance with the United States and its ally Australia.
The Solomon Islands, with a population of about 700,000, are located 1,500 kilometers (1,000 mi) northeast of Australia. They are famous for the bloody fighting that took place there during World War II between the United States and Japan.
Rioting and looting erupted targeting Chinatown in Huinara and downtown areas, on Wednesday, as a result of a peaceful protest in the capital by residents of Malaita. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters, setting fire to the National Parliament Building, a police station, and several other buildings.
Critics have also blamed the unrest on complaints of a lack of government services, accountability, corruption, and Chinese companies giving jobs to foreigners rather than locals.
Since the 2019 switch of allegiance from Taiwan to China, there have been expectations of massive infrastructure investment from Beijing – locally rumored to be on the order of $500 million – but with the COVID-19 epidemic spreading soon after the switch, none of that has yet materialised. .
Malaita threatened to hold an independence referendum on the issue, but the Sugavari government overruled it.
A plane carrying Australian police and diplomats is in Honiara to help local police restore order. Up to 50 additional Australian police and 43 defense force personnel have also been deployed at Sugavari’s request under a bilateral treaty with Australia. The presence of an independent force, though small, seemed to help quell some of the violence.
Farhan Haq, deputy UN spokesperson, said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is following the protests with “concern”.
“(Guterres) calls for an end to violence and the protection of hard-earned peacebuilding gains. He urges dialogue and prudent means to address differences,” Haq said in a statement on Friday.
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