Solomons PM warns capital rioters 'will face consequences'

·2-min read

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare has vowed to track down rioters who attempted to storm parliament, as the Pacific island nation's capital Honiara remained under lockdown Thursday following the unrest.

Hundreds of people demanding Sogavare's resignation marched on parliament Wednesday, burning down a thatched hut near the legislature before moving on Honiara's Chinatown, torching a police station and looting shops before police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Sogavare ordered an immediate curfew across Honiara, describing the unrest as a "sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically elected government down".

"The 36-hour lockdown will allow law enforcement agencies to fully investigate the perpetrators of the events today and to prevent further lawless destruction of property," he said in a statement released late Wednesday.

The violence reportedly involved a group of protesters who travelled to Honiara this week from the neighbouring island of Malaita.

Their grievances are believed to involve perceived neglect by the central government and lingering dissatisfaction at the Solomons' decision to switch diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to China in 2019.

Many communities in Malaita had forged deep ties with Taipei and the island's local government has repeatedly complained about embracing China, refusing aid projects funded by Beijing.

Such inter-island tensions spurred unrest that led to the deployment of an Australian-led peacekeeping force from 2003 to 2017 in the nation of 660,000, which lies 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) northeast of Australia.

There was rioting following general elections in 2006, with much of Honiara's Chinatown razed amid rumours businesses with links to Beijing had rigged the vote.

Sogavare said those involved in the latest unrest had been "led astray" by unscrupulous people.

"I had honestly thought that we had gone past the darkest days in the history of our country, however... (these) events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go," he said.

He added: "Hundreds of citizens took the law into their own hands today. They were intent on destroying our nation and... the trust that was slowly building among our people.

"However, today I stand before you to inform you all that our country is safe -- your government is in place and continues to lead our nation."

Sogavare said those responsible "will be taken to justice and they will face the full brunt of law".

"No one is above the law... these people will face the consequences of their actions," he said.

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