An initial force of 110 soldiers and 70 cops joined the 282 Australian Federal Police (AFP) already there as part of the Regional Assistance Mission in the Solomon Islands (RAMSI). This is an Australian-led force deployed since July 2003 to re-establish law and order.
Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said that more troops were on standby and that the police force would remain in the Solomons for a considerable while. The government of New Zealand also announced it would send an additional 25 army personnel and 30 police officers to back up its RAMSI contingent of 38 cops.
Protests erupted outside the Solomons parliament house April 18 following the announcement of the election of Snyder Rini as prime minister. Angry demonstrators turned against RAMSI cops and tried to storm the government building.
Peter Kenilorea, the speaker of the Solomons parliament, blamed Australian police officers for aggravating unrest by firing tear gas at protesters.
Some of the protesters carried out reactionary attacks against Chinese businesses and others in the Chinese community. Most of the buildings in Chinatownthe commercial center of Honiarawere ransacked and burned. Some 500 Chinese residents sought shelter at a police club hall.
Canberra used the violence as a pretext to step up its intervention and control of the government in Honiara.
The Australian governments stance may have also fueled the climate that led to the attacks on the Chinese in the Solomons. According to the April 26 Sydney Morning Herald, Downer warned the governments of China and Taiwan to stay out of politics in the Solomons and allow members of its parliament to choose a prime minister free of inappropriate incentives. He gave credence to unsubstantiated allegations in the media that the Chinese and Taiwanese governments had bribed deputies to vote for Rini. Downer made these remarks the day Rini resigned as parliament was about to pass a motion of no confidence in his regime.
Rini was deputy prime minister in the government elected in 2001, headed by Allan Kemakeza, leader of the Peoples Alliance Party. The Australian-led RAMSI intervention of some 2,000 troops in 2003 gave backing to his administration to restore stability in the Solomons, and to disband the rival militia groups that had been fighting since a civil war broke out in 1998.
Allegations of corruption against Kemakeza and Rini were widespread leading up to the April 5 general election. Only half the members of parliament retained their seats. Rini was elected prime minister by a narrow margin in a parliamentary vote over opposition candidate Job Tausinga. (The Solomons prime minister is decided by a vote by the 50 members of parliament.)
Opposition leaders accused Rini of bribing deputies to vote for him. On April 19, some 2,000 people marched on Government House, demanding that Rini resign.
Australias prime minister, John Howard, said it was his governments responsibility to use Australias military and economic clout to keep order in any potentially failing states in the Pacific. Obviously New Zealand and other smaller countries have to make a contribution, he added.
The Solomon Islands is a former British colony that won independence in 1978. The rulers of Australia now regard it as in their back yard.
Howard announced April 21 that his administration had dispatched another 110 troops to Honiara. Justifying this decision, he told Southern Cross Radio, In these situations its better to have more than less. He added, One of the reasons why our initial intervention worked very effectively was that it was very big and it sent a very strong message.
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