CANBERRA, Australia - Australia announced Thursday it is sending police, troops and diplomats to the Solomon Islands to help anti-government demonstrators who defied lockdown orders and took to the streets for a second day in violent protests.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the deployment includes a detachment of 23 federal police officers and up to 50 more to provide security at critical infrastructure sites, as well as 43 defense force personnel, a patrol boat and at least five diplomats.
The first personnel left Australia on Thursday with more going on Friday, and it was expected to last for a few weeks, Morrison said.
He said that our purpose is to provide stability and security.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare declared a lock-up Wednesday after 1,000 people gathered in the capital, Honiara, protesting his resignation over a host of domestic issues.
The protesters broke into the National Parliament building and burned the roof of a nearby building, the government said. They also set fire to a police station and other buildings.
The government said that they were intent on destroying our nation and the trust that was slowly building among our people.
According to Morrison, Sogavare asked for assistance from Australia amid the violence under a bilateral security treaty.
It is not the intention of the Australian government to intervene in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands. He said that is for them to resolve.
Morrison said that our presence does not indicate any position on the internal issues of the Solomon Islands.
Australia has led an international police and military force called the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands that restores peace in the country after bloody ethnic violence from 2003 to 2017 on the country's behalf.
Sogavare ordered the capital locked down from 7 p.m. Wednesday through 7 p.m. Friday after he said he had witnessed another sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically elected government down. He said he had gone past the darkest days in the history of the country and that we had honestly thought that we had gone past the darkest days. Today s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go. Despite an announcement from the Solomon Islands police force that they would be conducting increased patrols through Honiara amid the lock-in, protesters took to the streets on Thursday.
Local journalist Gina Kekea posted photos of a bank, shops and a school in flames on Twitter.
Morrison decided to send help after it became clear that the police in the Solomon Islands were stretched. Sogavare angered many in 2019 especially leaders of the most populous province of the Solomon Islands, Malaita, when he cut the country's diplomatic ties with Taiwan, switching its diplomatic allegiance to China instead.
Local media reported that many of the protesters were from Malaita whose premier Daniel Suidani has been at odds with Sogavare, whom he accuses of being too close to Beijing.
Suidani said he was not responsible for the violence in Honiara, but he told the Solomon Star News that he agreed with the calls for Sogavare to resign.
Over the last 20 years, Mannaseh Sogavare has been in power, the situation of Solomon Islanders worsened while foreigners have reaped the best of the country's resources, Suidani was quoted as saying. People do not want to be cheated anymore because they are not blind to this. The cause of chaos was a mixture of frustration and the cause of chaos, according to Honiara journalist Elizabeth Osifelo. The switch to China from Taiwan was also part of it, Osefelo told Australian Broadcasting Corp. It is not likely that it has triggered the situation, but it has also contributed to some of the tension we've been experiencing.