The Australian government said the deployment would support “riot control” and security at critical infrastructure, a day after demonstrators attempted to storm parliament and topple the prime minister, Manasseh Sogavare.
Canberra said the move was in response to a request from Sogavare under an existing security agreement between the two countries, and should not be seen as taking a position in Solomon Islands’ internal affairs.
Sogavare said his government was still in control. “Today I stand before you to inform you all that our country is safe – your government is in place and continues to lead our nation,” Sogavare said on Thursday, adding that those responsible would “face the full brunt of the law.”
Most of the protesters in Honiara are reportedly from the neighbouring island of Malaita. People on the island have long complained of neglect by central government and strongly opposed the decision to switch the country’s diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to China in 2019.
The protesters defied a 36-hour lockdown imposed in the wake of Wednesday’s unrest and took to the streets again on Thursday. By late evening, thousands of people were out on the streets, as fires burned and plumes of thick black smoke billowed high above the city. Banks, schools, police stations, offices and Chinese-owned businesses were among the buildings reportedly torched and, in some cases, looted.
“There’s mobs moving around, it’s very tense,” one man told AFP.
The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced his government was deploying 73 federal police officers and 43 Australian defence force (ADF) personnel to Solomon Islands, which lies about 1,000 miles north-east of Australia.
Resurgence of unrest in the Solomons fuelled, in part, by lingering animosity towards Chinese businesses and the 2019 decision to switch diplomatic allegiances from Taiwan to China.
Sogavare ordered an immediate curfew across Honiara, set to run until 7am on Friday, describing the unrest as a “sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically elected government down”.
The opposition leader, Matthew Wale, called on Sogavare to step down, saying the unrest would not be quelled by a police-enforced lockdown.
“Regrettably, frustrations and pent-up anger of the people against the prime minister are spilling uncontrollably over on to the streets, where opportunists have taken advantage of the already serious and deteriorating situation,” he said in a statement.
“The 36-hour lockdown is yet another reactionary response that is not the solution to the current situation,” he said.