Australia security committee meets as Solomon Islanders defy lockdown, set fire to buildings

The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force urged people attending schools and businesses to stay home to avoid being affected by unrest.

By Reuters

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Published: Thu 25 Nov 2021, 11:01 AM

Australia's top security committee met on Thursday to discuss mounting civil unrest in the Solomon Islands, Australian media reported, as protesters in the Pacific nation defied a lockdown and set fire to buildings in the capital for a second day.

The National Security Committee, which advises Australia's prime minister on foreign affairs, called the meeting, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported, amid reports and images shared on social media of crowds of protesters and burning buildings in the Chinatown district of Honiara.

Regional power Australia had no immediate plans to intervene and had not disclosed whether the Solomons requested assistance, but the governments of the two countries had been speaking over the past 24 hours about the worsening situation, the broadcaster added.

A spokesperson for Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to comment.

Media reports did not give an exact reason for the unrest but said people had travelled from the most populous province Malaita to the capital because of concern about being overlooked by the national government.

The province opposed a 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal links with China, resulting in an independence referendum last year which the national government has dismissed as illegitimate.

The Solomons, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting in the Second World War, experienced major rioting in 2006 following disputed elections, with many Chinese-owned businesses in Honiara burnt and looted.

Solomons Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare on Wednesday declared a 36-hour lockdown in Honiara after the latest unrest, calling it "another sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically elected government down".

The lockdown, which would run until 7am on Friday, would "allow our law enforcement agencies to fully investigate the perpetrators of today's events and to prevent further lawless destruction," Sogavare said.

The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) urged people attending schools and businesses around Honiara to stay home to avoid being affected by unrest.

"We want to make sure that our streets, schools and businesses will reopen soon after the lockdown," said RSIPF deputy commissioner Juanita Matanga in a statement.

"I am asking for your cooperation until the situation turns normal." 

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