Solomon Islands riots: Night-time curfew imposed in capital

Armed police with teargas masks on guard in Honiara
Armed police with teargas masks on guard in the Solomon Islands capital Honiara yesterday after three days of rioting and looting. Image: Al Jazeera screenshot APR

RNZ Pacific

The Governor General of Solomon Islands has declared a nightly curfew in the troubled capital Honiara, after a third day of looting and destruction.

Sir David Vunagi said the curfew, which started last night, will go from 7pm to 6am and be repeated every day until it is revoked.

Sir David said it was a necessary measure for the preservation of public security.

Only authorised officers are allowed to move within the city during curfew hours and anyone found breaching the restrictions will be prosecuted.

Rioting continued in Honiara yesterday, with reports protesters had set a building on fire behind the Prime Minister’s residence.

Protestors in Solomon Islands
Protesters in Honiara, Solomon Islands. Image: RNZ Pacific/Lisa Osifelo

A protest on Wednesday calling for the Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare to stand down has lapsed into major unrest which local police have been unable to contain.

Dozens of Australian police have arrived in Honiara to help local forces. More forces including Australian Defence Force personnel were due to arrive.

PNG security forces arrive
Papua New Guinea security force personnel have also touched down in Honiara to support local police.

PNG’s Police Commissioner David Manning is leading the PNG security contingent of 35 police and corrections officers.

An Australian Navy vessel is also enroute to Solomon Islands.

Armed police on guard in Honiara.
Armed police on guard in Honiara. Image: RNZ Pacific/Georgina Kekea

Tension is high in front of Sogavare’s residence where more than a hundred protestors have been throwing rocks while police with riot shields fire tear gas.

Australia’s Federal police officers are also visible in front of the Prime Minister’s residence.

RNZ Pacific correspondent Elizabeth Osifelo reported earlier that there were checkpoints set up around the city where the eastern part had been in flames.

“There’s a lot of tension still and especially a few metres around the prime minister’s residence. There’s a group of protesters and people around there,” she said.

“The police are still trying to push people back and there’s been tear gas fired.”

There is no confirmation where Prime Minister Sogavare is at this time.

Food shortages
Elizabeth Osifelo add that households in the capital were facing likely food shortages after looting during the ongoing unrest.

She said the destruction was focused on the city’s east where many businesses have gone up in flames or been emptied.

“But as of yesterday, a lot of these little canteens that are located in the residential areas have also gone out of stock so a lot of families will definitely be affected if this holds up for another day or two.”

Matthew Wale, Leader of Opposition in Solomon Islands.
Opposition leader Matthew Wale … “MPs should listen to what the people are saying and not allow more destruction.” Image: RNZ Pacific/Office of the Leader of Opposition

Meanwhile, the opposition leader, Matthew Wale, is reiterating his call for the prime minister to stand down.

Wale said the basis for the unrest is a political problem, so it requires a political solution.

He categorically denies accusations that he has played a part in inciting the unrest, and is calling for MPs in the government to leave Sogavare’s coalition

“MPs should listen to what the people are saying and not allow more destruction. The violence, of course I don’t condone it. But at the same time, leaders have decisions to make,” he said.

The prime minister has said that he was elected on the floor of Parliament and can only be removed on the floor of Parliament.

Democracy ‘paralysed’
But Wale said that the country’s democratic processes were paralysed by the control of numbers in Parliament.

He said the Sogavare government’s move to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China in 2019 had played a part.

“Sogavare controls those numbers because he attracts a lot of funding from loggers and — now it’s very clear — from China. So China is interferring in our domestic politics. It’s very, very clear.”

According to Wale, people are angry because the country’s system of government has become capitive to vested interests of logging and mining companies, as well as China.

“And so the interests of the people are sidelined or totally ignored and neglected, and that’s why they feel they have to take it up themselves.

“It’s a really tragic situation, it’s an unfortunate situation that people lose trust in the democratic processes.”

Wale said the national government’s persistent persecution of Malaita province had brought things to a head.

New Zealand response
New Zealand’s acting Foreign Minister, David Parker, said Aotearoa New Zealand was deeply concerned at the events unfolding in Solomon Islands.

He said New Zealand was a long-standing partner of the Solomons, and there were deep and enduring connections between the two countries.

Parker said New Zealand’s engagement in the Solomons was guided by the principle of tātou tātou — everyone acting together for the common good.

He said New Zealand stood with the government and people of Solomon Islands.

Parker said New Zealand would remain in close contact with its Solomons counterparts and international partners, though there had not yet been a request for assistance.

New Zealand police were currently providing advice and support to their counterparts in the Solomons.

The High Commission in Honiara was providing SafeTravel advice to New Zealanders in the country.

Only six buildings still standing in Honiara’s Chinatown
RNZ Pacific correspondent in Honiara, Georgina Kekea, said there were only six buildings still standing in Honiara’s Chinatown after two days of rioting.

Chinatown in Honiara, where some buildings still are burning
Chinatown in Honiara, where some buildings still are burning. Image: RNZ Pacific/Georgina Kekea

Chinatown in Honiara, where some buildings still are burning Photo: Georgina Kekea

She said there are also unconfirmed reports that one or more of the looters were trapped in burning buildings and lost their lives.

Kekea said there was no longer an air of tension but scavenging was continuing, though there was little left for people to steal from the destroyed businesses.

“Only six of the buildings were OK because they had locals minding the buildings, otherwise most of the buildings in Chinatown have been burnt down, scavengers now coming in and getting whatever they can and going back to their homes with it. There is nothing much left from the buildings anyway,” she said.

Georgina Kekea said the police focus was entirely on ensuring there was no more rioting, so looters were being ignored.

She said some buildings were still on fire.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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