Crisis-hit Solomon Islands girds for further protests

HONIARA (AFP) – The Solomon Islands is bracing for further political unrest, with fresh protests and a vote of confidence in the country’s prime minister slated for Monday (Dec 6).

The US State Department has warned citizens of possible “demonstrations leading up to, during, and after the vote” and announced that the United States consular agency in Honiara would be shut for normal business.

“Remember that even peaceful demonstrations can turn violent without warning,” officials warned on Friday.

Last month, a protest against Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare sparked three days of rioting in the capital that saw at least three people killed, 56 buildings burned or pillaged, and left the city’s Chinatown district in ruins.

Order was restored by Australian, Fijian, Papua New Guinea and New Zealand peacekeepers, who have divided up the capital for joint patrols with the overstretched Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

The governor of the country’s central bank – which estimated that the riots cost the equivalent of 15 per cent of annual economic output – called for Monday’s protests not to damage critical infrastructure.

“We must ensure that we do not allow any further damage to any properties or to any of the remaining critical infrastructures, whether government or privately owned,” central bank governor Luke Forau said.

“We cannot afford to experience any more destruction.”

Honiara has been on edge since the unrest and remains under an indefinite night-time curfew.

The no-confidence vote, brought by opposition leader Matthew Wale, is a potential flashpoint for more trouble and security is likely to be tight at Parliament on Monday.

The crisis has been fuelled by poverty, unemployment and inter-island rivalries in the nation of 800,000 and exacerbated by Mr Sogavare’s decision to switch the Solomons’ diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China in 2019.

Mr Sogavare, 66, is serving his fourth stint as prime minister and has twice previously been toppled by no-confidence votes.

The leader of the Solomons’ most populous island, Malaita, whose residents were involved in the initial protests, said new protests would respect the rule of law.

“We are going to do things legally. We are trying to get our people informed of a legal process,” provincial premier Daniel Suidani said.

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