The Solomon Islands government has imposed a 36-hour lockdown in the country's capital city of Honiara. Protests in the city turned violent Wednesday, with demonstrators looting and burning several stores and public structures, including the parliament building.
Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare ordered the lockdown in a public address. Sogavare described the plunge into chaos as the county once again reliving its "darkest days." He added that it is "sad and unfortunate" that some people have resorted to violence in attempting to bring down the democratically elected government.
Hundreds of people, including those from the nation's most populous island of Malaita, traveled to the capital to protest against the failures of the government in addressing various issues such as infrastructure and its handling of the COVID-19 crisis. A 2019 decision to cut its ties with Taiwan and build a relationship with China also sparked anger amongst some people in public.
Tensions between the two islands have had escalated following the national government's shift in diplomatic allegiance. The decision was opposed by Malaita's premier, Daniel Suidani, who accused the national government of receiving bribes. Sogavare repeatedly refuted the bribe allegations.
Tensions further escalated in May when Suidani traveled to Taiwan for medical treatment, a trip the administration described as "unauthorized."
By Wednesday morning, hundreds of demonstrators began to assemble in front of the national Parliament building, demanding for Sogavare to resign. Videos showed the demonstrators setting fire to a grass hut near the parliament building. Smoke could be seen emerging from the grass hut, where politicians assemble on occasion. The cottage was quickly enveloped in flames.
pic.twitter.com/l222q32kRi — The Solomon Islands Herald (@IslandsHerald) November 24, 2021
Protesters had also set fire to a police station and a building in Chinatown. The building was a Chinese-owned store, and images of the incident showed a sign with Chinese calligraphy engulfed by flames.
Some protesters broke into stores in the area and looted their contents. Fires continued to burn in the streets, with violent clashes between protesters and police continuing into the evening.
Sogavare, who is serving his fourth term as the nation's prime minister, said the lockdown will run until Friday. He said the measure should give law enforcement agencies enough time to investigate reports of violence and lawless destruction.
The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force urged citizens to stay off the streets not to be affected by the continued unrest. RSIPF deputy commissioner Juanita Matanga said schools and businesses should remain closed until the lockdown is lifted.