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24 April 2006

by secret ballot, Solomons parliament elects new PM; Ozzie & Kiwi troops keep order

The recent ethnic riots in Honiara,
capital of Guadalcanal
and the Solomon Islands.
Photo: Rev Kevin Rietveld,
The Age , Australia

Monday 24 April 2006

Solomons parliament
sworn in
under heavy security

by Michelle Nichols

HONIARA, Guadalcanal (Reuters) -- The Solomon Islands parliament was sworn in under heavy security on Monday amid fears the first sitting since last week's devastating riots in the capital could trigger further violence.

Hundreds of foreign peacekeepers and police cordoned off the building for the swearing-in ceremony as a helicopter hovered overhead, measures prompted by the protests against the election of Prime Minister Snyder Rini by secret ballot.

Opposition MP Patteson Oti said the lockdown was too heavy handed.

"It portrays a negative image of a parliament under siege ... and of a parliament ruled by the military -- that is not the case," Oti told reporters allowed into parliament.

After the swearing-in, Rini was driven away by peacekeepers in flak jackets. Rini has been under police protection in an undisclosed location since his election last Tuesday.

An Australian-led peacekeeping force which landed in the Solomons in 2003 to stop ethnic fighting has been reinforced following the latest unrest, bringing the number to almost 900.

Australia has repeatedly said it is determined not to let the Solomons, a chain of 992 South Pacific islands covering 1.35 million sq km (520,000 sq miles) of ocean, become a failed state and possible terrorist haven.

More than 1,500 protesters gathered at parliament last Tuesday when Rini was elected leader in the secret parliamentary ballot, throwing rocks at police before rioters rampaged through the small capital of Honiara, looting and burning homes and businesses.

A second night of rioting followed before the arrival of troops from Australia and New Zealand and a dusk-to-dawn curfew quelled the violence.

The rioting, fuelled by rumours that aid money from Taiwan was used to help elect Rini and that his government is heavily influenced by local Chinese businessmen, targeted the tiny, but economically powerful, Chinese community in Honiara.


The city's Chinatown was destroyed in the rioting and looting, with buildings burnt to the ground. Hundreds of Chinese have taken shelter with the Red Cross and hundreds more have fled the country.

South Pacific island nations like the Solomons have been caught in a battle for diplomatic influence between China and Taiwan. The Solomons officially recognises Taiwan, a self-ruled island China considers its own.

Police arrested an opposition politician on Sunday night and charged him in relation to Tuesday's riots. Another opposition MP was arrested on Monday after he was sworn in at the parliament.

The adjournment of parliament after the swearing-in until Tuesday and the opposition arrests have put in doubt a vote of no confidence planned by the opposition for possibly Wednesday.

The 50-seat parliament is evenly divided with 25 MPs each for the government and opposition.

Former prime minister and leader of the opposition Liberal Party, Bartholomew Ulufa'alu, called for an end to the arrests until parliament sorted out the political crisis.

"Allow the procedures of parliament to be completed, then you can have all the time in the world to arrest anyone you want," he said.

Solomons voters ousted half their parliament in the poll in early April, but it wasn't enough to unseat the government, with Rini being elevated to the top job and naming 11 members of the previous government in his 21-member cabinet.

The poll, at which political corruption was the major issue, was the first since peacekeepers restored law and order in 2003.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.


Anonymous Kevin Rietveld said...

Hi Bob
Only saw your blog for the first time today, even though it is over a year old. Good research, and thanks for your comments.
Would I do it again? These things are rarely premeditated. My wife & I went out for quite a different reason, though we carried the camera.


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