Australia to send forces to Solomons

Australia will send up to 180 soldiers and police officers to the Solomon Islands to help quell rioting and looting sparked by the election of a new prime minister in the troubled South Pacific nation.

    Trouble began when a former deputy leader won the polls

    An Australian government official said on Wednesday 110 troops would be deployed in four C-130 Hercules aircraft later in the day.

    A further 70 police would also be sent to back a 280-strong unit already in the Solomons as part of a peacekeeping operation.

    Australia led a multinational force into the Solomons to restore peace in what was the biggest military deployment in the South Pacific since World War II as part of new interventionist policy in the region over concerns of terrorism.
    John Howard, the Australian prime minister, told Australian radio: "We are absolutely determined that the Solomon Islands will be a stable democratic country and that can only happen if we go the distance."


    A 2,000-strong mob marched on Government House in the Solomon Islands on Wednesday and threatened to tear up the capital unless Snyder Rini, the new prime minister, stepped  down within the hour.

    After 24-hours of carnage primarily in the Chinatown district, the mob marched on government house and gave authorities a 6pm  (0700 GMT) deadline for Rini to leave.

    Hundreds of protesters then went to the Pacific-Casino Hotel in Chinatown, which had been attacked early in the morning, and torched vehicles belonging to a rental car company there.

    Rini, the former deputy leader, won a second round of voting in elections on April 5, beating Job Dudley Tausinga, a rival candidate who was leading in the initial stages, to become prime minister.

    Chinese families

    Protesters were angered that Rini was chosen despite his close ties to Allan Kemakeza, the former prime minister, whose party lost 11 of its 20 seats in a vote seen as a protest against government corruption.

    The Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) reported some minor injuries after Chinese families living above their stores jumped for their lives from burning buildings and swam across a nearby river to escape rioters late on Tuesday.

    Rioters in Honiara set fire to the
    local Chinatown district's shops

    Rioters claimed the new government of Snyder Rini would be heavily influenced by local Chinese businessmen and the Taiwan government, which the Solomons recognises diplomatically.
    The Chinatown district of the capital Honiara was mostly razed in the violence sparked by Rini's election on Tuesday.
    Alexander Downer, the Australian foreign minister, told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio: "During the night there has been a continuation of lawlessness in Honiara".

    Looting continued on Wednesday as more than 1,000 people gathered in central Honiara opposite the city's main marketplace, SIBC radio said.
    "They are throwing stones and rocks and have broken into a building and started looting," said SIBC.

    "Police are not doing anything. They are just standing on the side of the road directing traffic."

    Downer said 17 Australian police officers had been injured in the clashes.
    Crisis genesis

    The Solomons, a chain of 992 islands covering 1.35 million sq km of ocean, teetered on the brink of collapse in 2003 when armed gangs fought over Honiara.

    Rini, deputy prime minister in the previous government, won a secret parliamentary ballot on Tuesday but was trapped in parliament for most of the day with many members of his new government over fears for their safety.

    "We are absolutely determined that the Solomon Islands will be a stable democratic country and that can only happen if we go the distance"

    John Howard,
    Australian Prime Minister

    Johnson Honimae, the government spokesman, said: "The protesters were shouting yesterday that this was a Chinese government because the president of the party that Snyder Rini belongs to is a naturalised Chinese ... so they were saying this is a Chinese-backed government".

    About 500 supporters of Tausinga took to the streets of the capital, Honiara, on Tuesday, saying the vote was fixed, surrounding the parliament building and trapping the new leader inside.

    Protesters threw stones at the building before clashing with police, setting fire to cars and looting shops.


    After his election on Tuesday, Rini said the peacekeepers would remain in the Solomons to ensure peace.


    He said he would form a coalition government, with a cabinet to be announced on Wednesday.

    Voters fed up


    In early April the troubled Solomons, with a population of about half a million, held its first election since peacekeepers restored order three years ago.
    About half the members of the previous parliament were ousted by voters fed up with corruption and demanding a new government.
    Honimae said Rini had been moved to a safe location and it was not yet known whether Rini's swearing-in would happen as planned on Wednesday.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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