25 Nov 2021

Solomon Islands PM calls for calm after looting and protests

5:36 pm on 25 November 2021

Authorities are calling for calm and accountability in Solomon Islands, after political protests developed into looting and buildings were burned in the capital Honiara.

Local police outnumbered by protestors

Local police were outnumbered by the crowds, as unrest broke out following the protests. Photo: Lisa Osifelo

Prime minister Manasseh Sogavare said those behind yesterday's scenes of destruction in Honiara would be held accountable.

He gave a national address following the protests, which were led by citizens from Malaita Island, who voiced frustrations with the national government and called for Sogavare to step down.

The initial unrest surrounding the protests was followed by crowds breaching parliament's precinct and burnt a building next to the main chamber, and looting and burning of properties in town, including a school and a police station.

People making their way to Parliament

The crowds making their way to parliament, where a building used for coffee breaks was burned. Photo: Lisa Osifelo

Sogavare announced a full lockdown for 36 hours until Friday, and assured the public of their safety.

"I assure you all that the people responsible for today's events which lead to the destruction of properties will be taken to justice and they will face the full brunt of the law.

"No one is above the law."

Sogavare said those involved in the unrest were being manipulated by others to create division.

"They were intent on destroying our nation and destroying the trust that was slowly building among our people.

"It is very sad that many of these people may have allowed themselves to be led astray by a few unscrupulous people.

"I had honestly thought that we had gone past the darkest days in the history of our country. However today's events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go."

The prime minister said the lockdown would allow law enforcement agencies to investigate the perpetrators of the unrest and prevent further destruction.

Protestors in Solomon Islands

Smoke rising from buildings in Honiara set alight after the protests. Photo: Lisa Osifelo

Malaita premier denies involvement

Malaita province premier Daniel Suidani said he was not involved in the unrest in Honiara yesterday.

Many of the protesters came from Malaita, where the provincial government has been at odds with the national Solomon Islands government.

Suidani said the government should stop ignoring the people's concerns.

The premier of Malaita Province Daniel Suidani.

Daniel Suidani, the leader of the Solomon Islands' Malaita province. Photo: Daniel Suidani/ Official Facebook

"People in [Malaita's capital] Auki are peaceful at the moment. But their anger, and their idea to come across to Honiara, is about the national government's leadership.

"Now that they want to hide away from the people, in their mind I see they are provoking the people to do something that is not good."

Suidani said he did not plan to leave Malaita to go to Honiara, despite calls for him to urge Malaitans to back off in the capital.

He said the national government must stop ignoring his people if it was to restore calm in the capital

According to Suidani, the main grievance of Malaitans is the government's lack of follow-through on the Townsville Peace Agreement signed 21 years ago under Sogavare's first government.

The Townsville Agreement sought to resolve the conflict that was central to the ethnic tensions which brought the country to its knees at the time. It also provided for a form of self-autonomy for both Malaita and Guadalcanal.

"It's twenty years now and the national government even do not even table it in parliament to discuss the agreement between the people of Malaita and Guadalcanal.

"There are so many issues in the agreement, and I believe that is the main cause of the issue in Honiara right now," Suidani said.

Meanwhile, Guadalcanal province premier Francis Sade called for an end to the unrest, and said there were peaceful ways to properly address differences through democratic means.

Political violence was not a solution for diverse and close-knit communities like Honiara and Henderson, he said.

And he asked all provincial and national leaders in the Solomons to make the same calls to quell the ongoing tensions.

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