April 24, 2006

Solomons PM says can defeat no-confidence motion

By Michelle Nichols

HONIARA (Reuters) - New Solomon Islands Prime Minister
Snyder Rini said he is confident he will defeat Wednesday's
vote of no confidence, moved by opposition parties after his
election sparked rioting in the South Pacific nation.

The impoverished archipelago's parliament met amid tight
security on Tuesday for the second time since more than 1,500
people gathered to protest against Rini's election a week ago
by a secret parliamentary ballot, throwing rocks at police.

The protest spiraled into widespread looting, targeting the
tiny Chinese business population in the capital, Honiara,
before the arrival of hundreds of troops from Australia and New
Zealand and a dusk-to-dawn curfew quelled the violence.

Parliament is evenly divided with 25 MPs each for the
government and opposition, but two opposition MPs have been
charged in relation with the riots and remanded in custody.

"I'm confident the motion will be beaten so that my
government will continue with the work of rebuilding our
beloved Solomon Islands," Rini told a news conference.

Some Solomon Islanders fear that a defeat of the
no-confidence motion could spark more protests.

"I think some people will want to fight again ... but I
hope the security will keep it under control," Hilda Waetai
said as she set up her coconut oil stall.

The opposition boycotted a vote for the deputy speaker of
the parliament on Tuesday and complained that parliament had
been "hijacked" by the police and military security operation.

The rioting in Honiara was fueled by rumors that aid money
from Taiwan was used to help elect Rini and that his government
is heavily influenced by local Chinese businessmen.

The city's Chinatown was destroyed, with buildings burned
to the ground. Hundreds of Chinese took shelter with the Red
Cross before fleeing the country.

In Taipei, the government again denied charges its aid
money was used to help elect Rini.

"The accusation is unfair," Taiwan Foreign Ministry
spokesman Michel Lu said. "All our aid programs are for local
developments. We didn't use money to interfere in the local
election. As a democracy, we will not do such a thing."

More than 300 Chinese who had fled the Solomons after last
week's riots landed in China's southern city of Guangzhou early
on Tuesday on an evacuation flight chartered by the government.

The Solomons, like other Pacific island countries, has been
caught up in a battle for diplomatic influence between China
and Taiwan, which split at the end of the Chinese civil war in
1949. The Solomons officially recognizes Taiwan, but China is
trying to lure it and Taiwan's other diplomatic allies away.

Solomons voters ousted half their parliament in a national
election in early April, but it wasn't enough to unseat the
government. Corruption was the major election issue.

An Australian-led peacekeeping force which landed in the
Solomons in 2003 to stop ethnic fighting has been reinforced
following the latest unrest, bringing the number to almost 900.

Australia has repeatedly said it is determined not to let
the Solomons, a chain of 992 islands, become a failed state and
possible terrorist haven.

(Additional reporting by Alice Hung in Taipei and Guo
Shipeng in Beijing)