Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, has since Wednesday been hit by civil unrest with protests, looting and burning of shops and businesses. Despite a previous 36-hour curfew, thousands of protesters have taken to the streets calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
The new curfew will last from kl. 19:00 to 06.00 daily with effect from Friday. “During the period, only authorized officers are allowed to move within the city,” the government said in a statement.
Security forces have not been able to stop the protests in Honiara, which are urging the government to respect the Malaita people’s rights to self-determination, curb ties with China and resume development projects in Malaita province – home to the country’s most populous island.
A spokesman for the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) told CNN by telephone on Friday that fire engines had been sent to Sogavare’s residence as a precaution and that protesters had moved out of the city’s Chinatown district, where violence had previously been concentrated.
On Friday, the central government advised all public servants to stay home because of the unrest, with the exception of major workers, and urged staff to ensure they had food supplies “because of the uncertainty in the current situation.” On Thursday, a local journalist said fires were burning in Chinatown and that police had lost control in eastern Honiara.
Jone Tuiipelehaki, a development consultant at Honiara, said Chinatown had seen some of the worst of the violence.
“Even during the lockdown period, we saw people looting and breaking into malls around the east side of Honiara, but also in Chinatown in particular, (which) got the full burden of the violent protesters because they burned many of the shops in that area. ” he said.
Tuiipelehaki said it was difficult to interpret whether people were looting because they saw an opportunity or if their actions were part of a genuine protest.
“There are a lot of young people involved in looting and breaking into stores,” he said, adding that he saw young men and women break into a store that sells alcohol.
“Even when we’re talking right now, I can see people running out with bags of rice and cans and cartons of canned fish,” he said.
Lisa Cuatt, Solomon Islands’ country director for Save the Children in Honiara, said by evening local time that the situation had calmed down, but looting and riots continued throughout Friday.
“It has been some very disturbing days. People are afraid for their safety. Most of the violence has targeted buildings, but targeting infrastructure means you are targeting people’s livelihoods. Families and children are losing out in that scenario,” he said. she and added that one of the larger buildings that was destroyed was a folk high school in the capital during the exam week.
“There is no money left in the ATMs, the shops have been closed, families and children are going without food because it is difficult or unsafe to access it at this time,” Cuatt said.
Prime Minister Sogavare has refused to give in to protesters’ demands, saying in a public speech in local media on Thursday: “If I am removed as prime minister, it will be on the floor in parliament.”
Many of the protesters have come from neighboring Malaita province to express their dissatisfaction with the Sogavare government and its handling of a number of domestic issues, including lack of development and unrealized infrastructure promises.
The province of Malaita opposed the decision of Solomon’s central government in 2019 to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan and establish a formal relationship with China.
“I feel sorry for my people in Malaita because they are being fed false and deliberate lies about the shift,” Sogavare said.
“These countries, which are now affecting Malaita, are the countries that do not want ties with the People’s Republic of China, and they discourage Solomon Islands from entering into diplomatic relations and complying with international law and the UN resolution.
China has said it is “deeply concerned” about what it said were attacks on Chinese citizens and businesses in Honiara on Thursday. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the authorities “have asked the local government to take all necessary measures to protect the security of Chinese citizens and institutions.”
“We are convinced that under the leadership of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, the Solomon Islands Government will soon be able to restore social order and stability,” Zhao said.
The Solomon Islands was one of a handful of countries that had diplomatic relations with the democratic autonomous island of Taiwan, but in 2019, the archipelago exchanged allegiance with China. Beijing regards Taiwan as part of China and refuses to have diplomatic relations with any nation that does not recognize its “China policy”.
Zhao stressed that the One China policy “is a fundamental norm that governs international relations”, and since the Solomon Islands established diplomatic relations with China, “bilateral relations have enjoyed a healthy development with fruitful results.”
“Any attempt to disrupt the normal development of relations between China and the Solomon Islands is just in vain,” he said.
Additional reporting from CNN’s Pauline Lockwood and Reuters.