Solomon Islands PM blames foreign powers for unrest as protests spread

By Colin Packham and Kirsty Needham

CANBERRA (Reuters) -Foreign countries are responsible for stoking unrest that has led to violent protests in the Solomon Islands, Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said on Friday, as the small South Pacific island country struggles to quell the unrest.

Sogavare declared a 36-hour lockdown in the country's capital, Honiara, on Wednesday as authorities struggled to prevent protestors burning buildings and widespread looting.

Many of protestors have come from the most populous province Malaita, where many feel overlooked by the government in the wake of its opposition to the Solomon Island's 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal links with China.

Sogavare said the anger has been stoked by unnamed foreign countries.

"I feel sorry for my people in Malaita because they are fed with false and deliberate lies about the switch," Sogavare told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"These very countries that are now influencing Malaita are the countries that don't want ties with the People's Republic of China, and they are discouraging Solomon Islands to enter into diplomatic relations and to comply with international law and the United Nations resolution."

Sogavare declined to name the countries, as protests continuied to grip the Solomon Islands.

Solomon Island resident Transform Aqorau said more than a hundred people were on Friday looting shops and there was no resistance from police.

"The scenes here are really chaotic. It is like a war zone,” Aqorau told Reuters by telephone.

"There is no public transport and it is a struggle with the heat and the smoke. Buildings are still burning."

Sogavare's comments came as Australian police officers arrived in the Solomon Islands.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday said he accepted a requested from Sogavare for help and Canberra would deploy just over 100 personnel to aid Solomon Islands' authorities in guarding critical infrastructure.

(Reporting by Colin Packham in Canberra and Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by Michael Perry)