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Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Solomons riot threat if Opposition nominee loses PM race

By Craig Skehan, Honiara
May 3, 2006

These men were among rioters that looted Honiara's Chinatown. Original Photo: Wade Laube but obtained from

Three young men in a tough Honiara squatter settlement who looted and burned ethnic Chinese shops and houses have described their attempt to drive the Chinese out of the country.

Their description was accompanied by a warning that there could be more trouble if the Opposition candidate Manasseh Sogavare does not win a parliamentary vote in the Solomon Islands parliament for the prime ministership tomorrow.

"Just about everyone from around here was in the looting," said John, 33, who did not give his surname. "Everyone went down when they heard what was going on because they were angry with the Chinese.

"What happened was us talking from our hearts and our minds. The burning of the shops and houses was the people talking. We are satisfied those Chinese people have gone."

Following the April 18-19 riots, more than 300 ethnic Chinese fled to mainland China on emergency evacuation flights.

John claimed business registration and labour laws had been breached, particularly in relation to minimum pay rates and Chinese involvement in small shops, transport and selling betel nut, which was supposed to be reserved for Solomon Islanders.

The men, who spoke with their faces covered, said another cause of frustration was alleged bribery by some Chinese businesses to secure government contracts.

"I am quite satisfied that these new Chinese have been leaving since what happened in Chinatown," John said. "I really agree with the damage so they would leave and the Government would look at who are legal and who is illegal."

Another man from the area predicted that if the Opposition loses the parliamentary vote there would be more violence, despite the deployment of extra Australian police and soldiers.

A proposal to allow two jailed Solomon Islands MPs to vote in the ballot for the prime ministership has added to the tensions.

Opposition lawyers are citing what they argue is a precedent set prior to independence in 1978 in which a member of the then colonial legislature was allowed to vote from his hospital bed.

The matter has been referred to the Solomons Governor-General, Nathaniel Waena.

The jailed MPs were charged with inciting rioting.

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