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PM’s home burns as Solomon riots continue

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Rioters in the Solomon Islands have targeted the compound of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, setting a building alight, as unrest in the capital Honiara continued on Friday.

Australian police officers arrived in the Solomon Islands on Friday, to help provide security after days of violence.

The ABC confirmed rioters had targeted Mr Sogavare’s home. Local police moved in to quell the attack, reportedly firing warning shots.

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Honiare’s Chinatown was also on fire on Friday.

Australia has deployed 23 Australian Federal Police officers, including tactical response teams to the Pacific island nation to help with stability.

An additional 50 AFP officers and 43 Australian Defence Force members were on their way on Friday, along with a patrol boat.

The PNG government also confirmed on Friday it would send a 35-strong security team to Honiara.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said Australian forces had been armed with lethal and non-lethal weapons.

“Our role is to assist the Solomon Islands police force to restore law and public order as soon as we possibly can,” Ms Andrews told ABC TV.

“This is a policing matter, not a military matter, so we are working very closely with the police force there.”

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Save the Children’s Solomons country director Lisa Cuatt said there were strong fears for the safety and wellbeing of children following the destruction of Honiara High School and damage to other schools.

“The impact of this crisis on children’s education and wellbeing, in the immediate and long-term, cannot be understated or ignored,” Ms Cuatt said.

The organisation has 47 staff across four provinces in the country.

Ms Andrews said Australia’s deployment was in response to a request for help from the Solomon Islands government under a bilateral security treaty.

“We are not there to intervene in any way in domestic matters,” she said.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the Australian deployment was likely to last for weeks.

She estimated there were 200 Australian citizens in the country.

“We will engage with them as we need to in terms of those who might wish to leave,” Senator Payne said.

Mr Sogavare imposed a lockdown in Honiara for 36 hours along with a curfew in a bid to quell the unrest.

The lockdown ended on Friday morning.

Mr Sogavare has blamed foreign powers for encouraging the unrest in the country.

But Solomons Opposition Leader Matthew Wale has accused the government of taking bribes from China, saying the people were protesting the regime’s corruption.

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The widespread protests have largely started due to the Pacific nation’s decision in 2019 to switch diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China.

Media reports said people had travelled from the most populous province of Malaita to the capital because of concern about being overlooked by the national government.

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison sought to quell concerns from Solomon Island MPs that Australian intervention could prop up support for Mr Sogavare.

“They are not issues that Australia involves ourselves in,” he said.

“We have Australians bravely going back to the Solomon islands to support our Pacific family, to ensure we have stability and peace, so they can resolve issues internally.”

Australia led the peacekeeping mission in the Solomons from mid-2003 to June 2017.

-with AAP

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