what’s going on in the Solomon Islands? – RT in French
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The capital of this Pacific archipelago has been plagued for several days by unrest triggered by demonstrators demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister. In question: economic and ethnic tensions, but also geopolitical ones.
On November 26, Solomon Islands police used warning shots to disperse demonstrators trying to reach the private residence of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare. A small number of police officers managed to disperse the crowd that had set at least one building on fire and push them back towards the center of Honiara, the capital of the archipelago. It has been shaken for three days by violent riots, demonstrators demanding the resignation of Manasseh Sogavare.
The situation has led David Vunagi, the governor general of these Pacific islands, to decree today a night curfew of the capital (from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.) for an indefinite period. During the day, thousands of people – some armed with axes and knives – attacked Chinatown and the city’s central business district. Buildings were set on fire and shops looted as Australia deployed a peacekeeping force.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister denounces interference by foreign powers
The riots began on November 24 when hundreds of people demonstrated to demand the resignation of the prime minister before going to the Chinatown of Honiara, a city of 85,000 inhabitants. They then burned down a police station and looted businesses until the police intervened with tear gas.
Unfortunately, this is influenced and encouraged by other powers
Manasseh Sogavare said that foreign powers opposed to the decision taken in 2019 by his government to no longer diplomatically recognize Taiwan but China were at the origin of the disturbances. “Unfortunately, it’s influenced and encouraged by other powers… I don’t want to name names, we’ll stop there, we know who they are,” Manasseh Sogavare told Australian TV.
Others point to the economic difficulties made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic and the historic rivalry between the inhabitants of the country’s most populous island, Malaita, and that of Guadalcanal, where the government is based.
At the end of the 1990s, ethnic violence had broken out, part of the indigenous population of Guadalcanal attacking the inhabitants of Malaita who had come to settle on their island. Unrest had shaken the country for five years. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created in 2009 to appease the ethnic violence which lasted from 1998 to 2003. “Tensions” were eased with the deployment in 2003 of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (Ramsi), led by Australia with support from New Zealand and 13 other Pacific Islands Forum countries.
China worried about the safety of its nationals
Eighteen years later, the first members of the Australian peacekeeping force were deployed on the night of November 25-26, hours after Manasseh Sogavare’s call for help. Neighboring Papua New Guinea announced on November 26 the deployment of 34 peacekeepers.
Australian Interior Minister Karen Andrews insisted that the current deployment of the peacekeeping mission should last “a few weeks”, unlike the previous one. “Our first objective is to restore law and order, it is certainly not to intervene in the political problems which are happening at the moment,” she said.
The day before, despite the ban on going out, demonstrators took to the streets, looting businesses and running through the streets, their arms laden with crates and products as thick black smoke rose above. above Honiara.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian on November 25 expressed “great concern” for his country’s interests to the Solomons. He called on the government to “take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of Chinese nationals and Chinese entities.” The next day, Beijing condemned the riots that caused “significant damage and material loss”. “The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the Solomon Islands is in line with the current trend and constitutes the right choice which makes it possible to withstand the test of history,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Chinese Foreign Affairs, Zhao Lijian.
Largest Solomon Islands opposed to recognition of Beijing
Residents of Malaita Island feel abandoned by the central government, and disputes escalated when Manasseh Sogavare diplomatically recognized Beijing.
The Malaita authorities opposed this decision and continued to maintain their relations with Taiwan. As a result, the province continues to receive considerable assistance from Taipei and Washington.
The premier of this province, Daniel Suidani, accused Guadalcanal – the island of Manasseh Sogavare – of being in the hands of Beijing, saying that the latter puts “the interests of foreigners above those of the inhabitants of the islands. Solomon”. “People are not blind and don’t want to be deceived anymore,” he said.
According to experts, this geopolitical rivalry is not the only cause of the current events but it has contributed to it. “The actions of these great powers, which are attracting the good graces of political actors, have a destabilizing effect on what is already a fragile and vulnerable country,” said Mihai Sora, Pacific specialist at the Institute. Lowy from Australia. “And then of course, the contemporary context is that of prolonged economic difficulties due to the restrictions of the Covid, the state of emergency of the Covid,” he told AFP.
Until 2019 and since 1983, the Solomon Islands maintained diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Their government then chose to break with the territory to recognize the communist power of Beijing as the legitimate representative of China. The Asian giant – which considers Taiwan as one of its provinces although it does not control the island of 23 million inhabitants – makes it a prerequisite for establishing diplomatic relations with other countries.
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