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Australian police have controlled the Solomon Islands capital in recent days after witnessing unrest

© Reuters. PHOTO PHOTO: Smoke is seen in the Chinatown after smoke was blown as the Solomon Islands condemned the government-imposed blockade and protested in the capital, in Honiara, on November 25, 2021, in a still image taken from a video provided by Solomon Islands.

By Colin Packham and Kirsty Needham

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australian police took control of the Solomon Islands capital Honiara on Friday after violent protests in the South Pacific island nation, witnesses said.

Tear gas was spread in Chinatown, where looting and burning of buildings continued on Friday morning and a neighbor was expected to set it up later that day to Reuters.

Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who called on Australia for help on Friday, accused foreign countries of sparking violent protests, but gave no name.

Many of the protesters come from the most populous province of Malaita and feel forgotten by the government of Guadalcanal province and oppose the decision taken in 2019 to end diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establish formal ties with China.

“I feel sorry for my people in Malaysia because they are fed false and deliberate lies about the change,” he told Sogavare Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“These countries that are now affecting Malawi are countries that do not want ties to the People’s Republic of China, and are recommending that the Solomon Islands have diplomatic relations and comply with international law and the United Nations resolution.”

China and Taiwan have been rivals in the South Pacific for decades, altering the national loyalty of some of the islands.

China considers Taiwan a province with no right to state-to-state relations, which is strongly debated by the Taipei government. Only 15 countries have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The last two to leave Taipei for Beijing were Solomon Islands and Kiribati in September 2019.

Taiwanese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou told Reuters in a statement: “We have nothing to do with the unrest.”

Solomon Islands residents Transform Aqorau said more than a hundred people were looting shops on Friday before Australian Federal Police officers arrived.

“The scenes here are very chaotic. It’s like a war site,” Aqorau told Reuters on the phone Friday morning.

“There’s no public transportation and it’s a struggle with heat and smoke. The buildings are still burning.”

He later said Australian police were “taking control of Chinatown”.

A statement on the Solomon Islands government’s website said public officials should stay at home except for essential staff “because of the unrest in the city of Honiara.”

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was sending 100 police officers and was “clearly focused on the stability of our region”.

He was sent to the Solomon Islands in 2003 by Australian police on a peacekeeping mission, authorized by a statement from the Pacific Islands Forum, and was detained for a decade.

Serious internal unrest and armed conflict between 1998 and 2003 involved militant groups on Guadalcanal and the neighboring island of Malaita, and fought on the outskirts of Honia.

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