Riot-hit Solomon Islands' PM vows to defy pressure to resign

SYDNEY • The Prime Minister of riot-hit Solomon Islands vowed yesterday to defy pressure to resign, saying violence that swept the capital had been orchestrated by a few people with "evil intention" to topple him.

"It is very clear that the recent events were well planned and orchestrated to remove me as the prime minister for unsubstantiated reasons," Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in an address broadcast to the Pacific island nation.

Nervous residents in the charred, riot-hit capital Honiara cleared shattered glass, rubble and trash from the streets yesterday as foreign peacekeepers were deployed to restore calm.

On a street corner in Chinatown - the epicentre of a three-day bout of torching and looting of buildings - students from a technical institute used rakes and spades to clean the road, said Agence France-Presse correspondents at the scene.

Mounds of trash still lined the surrounding streets, a reminder of the explosion of violence blamed partly on poverty, hunger and frustration with the policies of Mr Sogavare. An indefinite night-time curfew and the presence of roughly 150 foreign peacekeepers from Australia and Papua New Guinea, as well as local police, appeared to have contributed to quelling the unrest.

"The situation has calmed down and people are moving about as normal, but the environment is still unknown in terms of what may happen," Red Cross official Kennedy Waitara told AFP.

Mr Waitara said many food shops were burned down in the riots and that he has already seen some shops raising prices for rice and other goods. People were also starting to queue up for petrol.

Many people were too nervous even to attend yesterday's church services in the deeply Christian nation of 800,000 people, said Mr Nason Ta'ake, a youth leader at the Wesley United Church in Honiara.

Two years of closed borders induced by the Covid-19 pandemic have left the already ravaged Solomon Islands economy in tatters, deepening widespread joblessness and poverty.

The loss to the economy was expected to be at least US$28 million (S$38.2 million), with the central bank's governor warning that the nation's accounts - already struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic - had been further weakened by the riots.

Local police said at the weekend that a forensic team was working to identify the charred remains of three bodies found in a shop in the city's burnt-out Chinatown district. The Red Cross official reported few other serious injuries.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday that he was being regularly briefed about the deployment of peacekeepers in the Solomon Islands, adding that he expected Fiji to also contribute troops.

Protesters have channelled their anger directly at Mr Sogavare and his government, with mobs attempting to torch Parliament and the Prime Minister's private residence as police fired tear gas and warning shots.

More than 100 people have been arrested for riot-related activity, the Solomon Islands police said on Saturday as they tried to restore order.

Mr Sogavare has vowed to resist calls for his resignation, but opposition leaders on Saturday called for a vote of no confidence in his leadership. The move could produce another flashpoint.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2021, with the headline Riot-hit Solomon Islands' PM vows to defy pressure to resign. Subscribe