Demonstrators from the country’s most populous island, Malaita, had traveled to the capital in a spillover of anger about a host of domestic issues including unrealized infrastructure promises, media reported. They demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) said between 2,000 and 3,000 protesters took to the streets on Thursday, with some setting fire to buildings and looting stores in the eastern part of Honiara. Thirty six people have been arrested, they added.
Protests broke out on Wednesday evening as parliament resumed over the Prime Minister’s lack of response to a citizen petition filed in August, which included demands for the government to respect the rights of self-determination of the Malaita people, to limit ties with China and to resume development projects in Malaita.
Police had earlier deployed tear gas to break up the protests.
When calling for the lockdown in an address that was broadcast late on Wednesday, Prime Minister Sogavare said, “Our nation witnessed another sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically elected government down.”
“I had honestly thought that we had gone past the darkest days in the history of our country, however today’s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go,” Sogavare said.
A lockdown in Honiara, which would run until 7 a.m. on Friday, local time, “will allow our law enforcement agencies to fully investigate the perpetrators of today’s events and to prevent further lawless destruction,” he said.
As well as looting stores, demonstrators set fire to a thatched roof building on the grounds of the Parliament — as it was sitting — and a police station, said the Prime Minister.
The RSIPF urged people attending schools and businesses around Honiara to stay home to avoid being affected by unrest.
“We want to make sure that our streets, schools and businesses will reopen soon after the lockdown,” said RSIPF deputy commissioner Juanita Matanga in a statement.
“I am asking for your cooperation until the situation turns normal.”
Australia sends troops and police
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters on Thursday Australian Federal Police personnel have been deployed to the Solomon Islands to “provide stability and security.”
Morrison said he had received a formal request under a bilateral security agreement for assistance and to support the RSIPF. Australia agreed to send in 23 AFP personnel to support riot control and up to 50 more to support security at critical infrastructure, he said.
An additional 43 Australian Defense Force members will also be deployed.
“It’s our hope and ambition that our presence will seek to calm the situation in the Solomon Islands and to restore some peacefulness which will enable the normal peaceful ways of seeking to resolve any issues there, which Australia has no part in directly resolving and allowing the normal constitutional processes and the political processes in the Solomon Islands to take their course,” Morrison said.
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