Australia boosts Solomons force

Australia is doubling the number of its troops deployed in the troubled Solomon Islands in a show of "overwhelming force" to head off more rioting in the capital, Honiara.

    Australian troops are helping to enforce a curfew

    "In these situations, it's better to have more than less," Prime Minister John Howard told the Southern Cross Broadcasting radio network on Friday, after announcing 110 more troops would arrive in the Solomons later in the day.

    "It is far more desirable to deter troublemakers in a situation like this than to fight a pitched battle," he said. "If they think there is overwhelming force, they won't try trouble in the first place."

    In Hoiara itself armed Australian and New Zealand troops and police continued to patrol streets and man roadblocks to deter crowds from gathering.

    Workers began returning to their offices after days of unrest while others began cleaning up neighborhoods razed in an orgy of rioting, looting and arson that also injured more than 20 foreign police.

    The Solomon Islands has no military and the presence of heavily armed foreign troops on the streets has quickly reined in the rioting.


    Scores of homes and businesses
    have been burned out

    Clashes began on Tuesday following the election of Snyder Rini - a senior lawmaker who protesters claim is corrupt - as prime minister.

    Rini was secretly sworn into office on Thursday by the head of state, Governor General Sir Nathaniel Waena - a move only made public later that evening on the government-run radio network.

    However, it was not immediately clear how long he would last in the job. Parliament was due to meet on Monday for the first time since April 5 elections, with opposition lawmakers hoping to cobble together a coalition aimed at ousting Rini.

    With most of Honiara calm on Friday, the Solomons' Police Commissioner Shane Castles said 22 people were arrested overnight for looting and breaching the dawn-to-dusk curfew.

    Police are monitoring opposition groups and do not believe they are plotting more violence, Castles said.


    "The situation is relatively calm - but it's still fragile"

    Paul Ashe,
    Coordinator, regional intervention force

    "There are no groups preparing for that type of activity and we are monitoring that carefully," he told reporters.

    "The situation is relatively calm - but it's still fragile," said Paul Ashe, a special coordinator with the regional intervention force providing about 650 troops and police to restore law and order.

    On Thursday night, police announced the arrest of 14 looters in the provincial capital of Auke on the island of Malaita - the first sign that the unrest had spread beyond the Solomons' main island, Guadalcanal.

    Highlighting the rioters' main grievance, protesters sprayed "2006 Corrupt: we need change" on the wall of a burned-out shop in the capital's Chinatown, 90% of which was looted and reduced to rubble earlier this week.

    Chinese businesses are "a specific target," Ashe said, probably due to rumors that the new premier's supporters in Parliament had been bribed by China or rival Taiwan to vote him into office.

    One Chinese family arriving in Australia said they feared two children had died in an arson attack on Tuesday night, but police in Honiara said they could not confirm any deaths.



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