Police in the Solomon Islands have found three bodies in a burned-out building and arrested more than 100 people after this week’s violence sparked by concerns about the Pacific nation’s increasing links with China.
Australian media reported the bodies were recovered late on Friday after riots and protests subsided.
Authorities imposed a curfew in the capital Honiara, after a 36-hour lockdown ordered by embattled Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare ended on Friday.
He blamed outside interference for stirring up the protests calling for his resignation, with a thinly veiled reference to Taiwan and the US.
Mr Sogavare has been widely criticised by leaders of the country’s most populous island of Malaita for a 2019 decision to drop diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favour of mainland China, which claims the self-ruled island of Taiwan as part of its territory.
His government has been angered over millions in US aid promised directly to Malaita, rather than through the central government on the largest island of Guadacanal, where Honiara is located. The two islands have been rivals for decades.
Andrew Yang, a professor at Taiwan’s National Sun Yat-sen University and former deputy defence minister, said China’s efforts to win diplomatic recognition from the Solomon Islands are part of a competition for regional dominance with the US and its ally Australia.
The Solomon Islands, with a population of about 700,000, are located about 1,000 miles north east of Australia. They are best known for bloody fighting between the US and Japan during the Second World War.
Riots and looting targeting Hoinara’s Chinatown and central areas erupted on Wednesday out of a peaceful protest in the capital by people from Malaita.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at the demonstrators, who set fire to the National Parliament, a police station and other buildings.
Critics also blamed the unrest on complaints of a lack of government services and accountability, corruption and Chinese businesses giving jobs to foreigners instead of locals.
Since the 2019 shift in allegiance from Taiwan to China, there has been an expectation of massive infrastructure investment from Beijing — locally rumoured to be in the range of £375 million — but with the outbreak of Covid-19 shortly after the shift, none of that has materialised.
Malaita threatened to hold a referendum on independence over the issue, but that was quashed by Mr Sogavare’s government.
Australian police and diplomats are in Honiara to help local police restore order. Up to 50 more Australian police and 43 defence force personnel were also deployed following a request by Mr Sogavare under a bilateral treaty with Australia.
The presence of an independent force, though small, seemed to help quell some of the violence.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres has been following the protests “with concern”, his deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said.
“(Guterres) calls for an end to the violence and the protection of hard-won peacebuilding gains. He urges dialogue and peaceful means to address differences,” he added.