April 20, 2006

Solomon Islands PM sworn in as troops patrol streets

By Michelle Nichols

HONIARA (Reuters) - The Solomon Islands secretly swore in
new Prime Minister Snyder Rini on Thursday as Australian troops
and police patrolled the country's blackened capital after two
days of rioting sparked by his election.

Australia said it was committed to restoring law and order
in the troubled South Pacific island chain to prevent it
becoming a failed state and possible haven for terrorism.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty said
about 70 people had been arrested after the riots and looting,
much of it targeted at Chinese-owned businesses and shops.

"We expect to have more arrests over the next 24 to 48
hours," he told AAP.

After an overnight curfew forced some rioters off the
streets, those who ventured out wandered along dusty streets
strewn with broken glass and debris as the smell of smoke hung
in the humid air.

Dozens of blackened buildings smoldered, their tin roofs
now warped and collapsed. Shops had doors and windows missing
and were littered with refuse left by looters and obscene
graffiti directed at Rini and the Australian-led peacekeeping

Burnt-out cars dotted dirt roads throughout Honiara, a town
of 50,000, as armed troops stopped and checked vehicles.

"The town is not looking good now. The protesters have to
stop burning the buildings," said taxi driver Kingsley Sam,
driving through tight security at Honiara airport. "I think the
prime minister should resign to stop the trouble."

Violence erupted on Tuesday after Rini was named as the new
leader. Rioters claimed Rini's new government would be heavily
influenced by local Chinese businessmen and the Taiwan
government, which the Solomons recognizes diplomatically.

But in a statement issued by the prime minister's office,
interim government spokesman Edward Huniehu said Rini would
only resign if a vote of no confidence was passed by

Rioters and looters targeted Honiara's Chinese population
of a couple of thousand, destroying most of the Chinatown

Dozens of Chinese families abandoned their homes and are
being cared for by the local Red Cross.

Some shop keepers managed to escape the protesters anger by
painting on the walls of their buildings "locally owned shop."

"We're scared because we don't know when they're coming for
us," said 32-year-old Sam Wong, who has lived in Honiara for 18
years, but fled his home with his family on Wednesday night to
the Red Cross shelter set up inside the Solomon Islands police
headquarters compound. "We didn't want to stay alone."

While Wong's home has not been damaged, many Chinese among
the 400 gathered at the Red Cross shelter had lost everything,
Solomon Islands Red Cross Deputy Secretary General Nancy Jolo

The Solomons, a chain of 992 islands covering 1.35 million
sq km (520,000 sq miles) of ocean, teetered on the brink of
collapse in 2003 when armed gangs fought over Honiara.

Australia then led a South Pacific force to restore order,
warning that failed states could become terrorist havens.

Australia, New Zealand and Fiji have committed an extra 250
troops to that peacekeeping force to back Canberra's
interventionist policy.

"Failed states become the breeding grounds for all sorts of
ideologies and attitudes and developments which can pose a
threat to the stability of the whole region," Australian Prime
Minister John Howard said on Wednesday.

Honiara's normally thriving open-air marketplace, where
people gather each morning to buy food grown in villages
outside the capital, was closed for a second day, but hundreds
still gathered there on Thursday afternoon.

Johnson Honimae, a government communications officer, said
people were scavenging through the rubble.

"Some services, including public transport, petrol
stations, health clinics, have reopened. Schools and banks have
yet to open their doors," he said.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer will visit the
Solomons on Saturday and will hold talks with Rini.

"We have more troops ready ... if we need to send them in,"
Downer told Australian Sky Television. "It doesn't look as
though we will need to do that but if things suddenly take a
turn for the worse ... we can certainly send more troops in