Australia is to deploy more than 70 security personnel to the Solomon Islands’ as two days of violent unrest continued to escalate in Honiara, the capital.
Responding to a formal request from Solomon Islands’ Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, Australia’s Scott Morrison announced the deployment on Thursday.
“Our purpose is to provide security and stability,” Morrison said.
Some 23 Australian Federal Police will be deployed immediately, with a further 50 Australian soldiers arriving in the coming days, where they will be stationed for several weeks.
Riots began in Honiara on Wednesday morning, with protesters arriving on the steps of Solomon Islands’ national parliament demanding the prime minister’s resignation.
While initially peaceful, the protests became heated, with some attendees attempting to storm the parliament.
Met with heavy police resistance, which included the use of tear gas, the protest descended into rioting, with several structures – including a building within the parliamentary complex – razed to the ground or looted.
Many of the protesters had arrived from Malaita, the country’s most populous island.
For two years, tensions between the Malaita Provincial Government and the Solomon Islands’ national government, led by Sogavare, have been growing.
Much of the tension relates to the 2019 decision of Sogavare to extend diplomatic recognition to China – a decision that was deeply unpopular in Solomon Islands.
Since 2019, the Malaitan Premier, Daniel Suidani, has become known for his vocal opposition to the country’s China policy. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Suidani has even maintained an informal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, which has delivered Malaita consignments of COVID-19 equipment, angering both China and the Sogavare Government.
Premier Suidani also spent five months in Taiwan earlier this year, ostensibly to receive medical treatment for an undisclosed brain condition.
As night fell and protests continued in Honiara on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sogavare declared a 36 hour curfew.
“I honestly thought the darkest days of our country were behind us,” he said while declaring the curfew.
Few protesters respected the plea for civility. Throughout the night, more fires were lit, as the firing of rubber bullets by riot police lit up the night sky.
One of the largest fires enveloped the meeting hall at Honiara Senior High School.
Living nearby was Res Lyn, a 22-year-old university student.
“I feel sad because it was my former school”, she told Al Jazeera.
“During its burning I stand beside the school principal and can feel the rage he’s feeling”, she said.
The defiance of the prime minister’s lockdown orders continued on Thursday, with larger crowds descending upon the Chinatown district where the looting and the torching of buildings intensified.