CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – Protesters in the Solomon Islands on Thursday defied a government-ordered lockdown and took to the streets on a second day of violent protests. Australia announced that it will send police, soldiers and diplomats to the country to help resolve the crisis.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the detachment will include 23 federal police officers and up to 50 more to guard critical infrastructure, in addition to 43 soldiers, a patrol boat and at least five diplomats. The first will arrive on Thursday night and the rest on Friday, he added, noting that the operation will last a few weeks.
“Our purpose here is to provide stability and security,” said Morrison.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare imposed the restrictions after some 1,000 people took part in a protest in the capital Honiara on Wednesday demanding his resignation over a series of internal problems.
The protesters stormed the National Parliament building and set fire to the thatched roof of a nearby building, the government said. In addition, they started fires at a police station and other buildings.
“His intention was to destroy our nation and … the trust that was gradually being built among our people,” the government said in a statement.
According to Morrison, Sogavare asked Australia for help in curbing the violence under a bilateral security treaty.
Sogavare decreed a lockdown in the capital from 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday to 7:00 p.m. on Friday after stating that he was a “witness to another sad and unfortunate incident aimed at overthrowing a democratically elected government.”
“I honestly thought we were past the darkest days in our country’s history,” he said. “However, today’s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go.”
Despite the announcement that police will conduct more patrols in Honiara during the shutdown, protesters took to the streets again on Thursday.
Photos posted by local reporter Gina Kekea on Twitter showed a bank branch, shops and a school on fire.
Morrison explained that he decided to send help when it became clear that the country’s police were “overwhelmed.”
Sogavare angered many in 2019, especially leaders of the most populous province, Malaita, when he cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan to align himself with China.
Local media reported that many of the protesters came from that region, whose prime minister, Daniel Suidani, is at odds with Sogavare, whom he accuses of being too close to Beijing.
Suidani claimed he was not responsible for the violence in Honiara, but told Solomon Star News that he agrees with calls for Sogavare’s resignation.
“In the last 20 years that Mannaseh Sogavare has been in power, the situation of Solomonians has worsened while foreigners have exploited the best resources in the country,” Suidani was quoted as saying. she’s blind and doesn’t want to be fooled anymore. “
Rising reported from Bangkok, Thailand.