Rishikesh KumarAll materialsWrite to the authorThe Pacific island nation has witnessed massive rioting on the second day of protests, primarily among people from Malaita Province, the most populous island in the Solomon Islands archipelago. They have been demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.Defying a 36-hour lockdown, violent protesters set buildings alight and stoned shops in the Chinatown neighbourhood of the capital city Honiara on Thursday.Visuals shared by the residents on social media show a crowd stoning and looting the building, in an area dominated by the businesses of ethnic Chinese people.
The Solomon Islands Herald reported that Ranadi, a suburb east of the capital, has also been looted, and demonstrators set a few buildings on fire, including the Bank of South Pacific (BSP).
Meanwhile, Australia, more than 2,000 miles away from Malaita, has called on Cabinet’s National Security Committee to review the Solomon Islands unrest on Thursday afternoon.
However, ABC News reported that it is not clear if the Sogavare government has requested Australia for assistance. Australia-led forces had played a crucial role in bringing peace in the Islands, which are best known for intense World War II battles between the US and Japanese troops, during a five-year-long ethnic conflict beginning in 1998 that claimed around 200 lives.
Opposition Leader Supports Protesters
Matthew Wale, the Leader of the Opposition in the Solomon Islands, has blamed Manasseh Sogavare for making “culturally insensitive” remarks against the Malaitans during his address to the nation late Wednesday night.”I call on the Prime Minister to do the right thing and resign,” Matthew Wale said on Thursday, adding the Prime Minister’s comments on Malaitans not to bang their heads against a brick wall has further incited feelings.The Opposition Leader also added that “if Prime Minister Sogavare refuses to resign, I am calling on Ministers and MPs to resign from the DCGA to remove the Prime Minister.”
He said the police will not resolve that situation, and it requires a political solution.The Leader of the Opposition added that “a string of controversial decisions made over the last couple of years has added fuel to people’s feelings”.
On Wednesday, after demonstrators burned the parliament building and police station, Prime Minister Sogavare said it was a "sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically-elected government down".
At the centre of the deepening crisis in the Pacific island nation is said to be a September 2019 decision where Sogavare established formal diplomatic ties with China. The decision has angered the Malaitans, which have cultural connections with Taiwan, and blamed Sogavare for ignoring their sentiments.
‘Violence Loving PM’
On Thursday, Honiara-based Malaitans issued a statement in which they blamed Sogavare for the current crisis.
“Sogavare, it is clear you love violence and riots and chaos. After all, this is how you first became Prime Minister in 2000, then again in 2006. You are obviously still a war monger to this day. You again became Prime Minister in 2014 and 2019 by playing grasshopper politics, running as an independent candidate, then manipulating MPs to join you under a coalition party that serves your self-interest,” the statement read.The Solomon Islands Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI), the apex body representing the private sector, expressed shock to observe schools, police stations, and multiple businesses burning down. “It is unfortunate and uncalled for those businesses, especially wholesale shops, have become targets of looting incidents,” the SICCI said. The industry body, which also has the representation of ethnic Chinese businesses, urged demonstrators to keep the businesses and commercial operations out of these tensions.