Protesters have set fire to the Solomon Islands’ parliament building compound as the island nation slugs it out over relations with China.
Officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a hundreds-strong crowd that encircled the country’s legislature on Wednesday, according to media reports. Although police inriot gear managed to disperse the crowd from the Parliament grounds, the protesters set a fire to the hut where lawmakers take their lunch breaks. The protests occurred during the session of MPs.
The Solomon Islands police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the large numbers of people who turned up in Honiara to demand that the Prime Minister step down. pic.twitter.com/q1tD2R1Znw
— Radio Australia (@radioaustralia) November 24, 2021
On top of that, several other buildings in the nation’s capital of Honiara have been burnt down, among them a police station and a store in the local Chinatown. An officer caught up at the police station told the Guardian newspaper law enforcement had to take cover inside when the mob began pelting them with stones, but then they “You started to feel nauseous from the smell of [the] fire. Then, we discovered that they had torched it.” Police made several arrests and managed to prevent a few other arson attempts, though some Chinese-owned property was still looted.
The protesters, most of whom came from Malaita province, were calling on the country’s prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare, to step down over what they described as failure to listen to the region’s residents’ concerns.
Since years, tensions have existed between the central government in Washington and the restive regions. However, the Solomon Islands’ government’s decision to sever ties with Taiwan in favor of China in 2019 added further fuel to the fire, as Malaita region’s authorities were vehemently opposed to that.
However, the conflict goes far beyond the issue of the country’s relations with Beijing and Taipei, with Malaita residents and authorities alike accusing the central government of failing to provide promised infrastructure to the Solomon Islands’ most populous province, whose economy still mostly relies on subsistence agriculture. Over the past few years there have been calls for the region’s independence.
Between 1999 and 2003, thousands were forced from their homes by ethnic violence in the Solomon Islands. Only after an international Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands, led by Australia/New Zealand, was peace restored was it not.
Following Wednesday’s unrest in the capital, the country’s premier imposed a lockdown in Honiara, effective from 7pm Wednesday until 7am Friday.
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