April 25, 2006

Embattled Solomons PM resigns

By Walter Nalangu

HONIARA (Reuters) - Solomon Islands Prime Minister Snyder
Rini, whose election sparked rioting and looting, resigned on
Wednesday saying he no longer had the support of parliament,
sparking celebrations on the streets of the capital.

Protests last week against Rini's election spiraled into
widespread looting, targeting the tiny Chinese business
population in Honiara, before the arrival of Australian and New
Zealand troops to restore peace.

Rini said he hoped his decision to step down would bring
peace to the Solomons, an impoverished nation of 992 islands
spread out over 520,000 sq miles.

"I have no alternative but to tender my resignation as
prime minister of the Solomon Islands," Rini told parliament
shortly before a scheduled vote of no confidence against him.

The news was greeted by impromptu celebrations in the
streets with people cheering and drivers honking their horns.

Rini had earlier said he was confident of surviving the
vote, despite parliament being evenly divided with 25 MPs each
for the government and opposition.

But when Rini entered parliament, five members of his new
government were sitting with the opposition. He was then
offered the chance to resign and announced he was stepping

Rini will formally tender his resignation to the head of
state who will then allow four days for nominations for the
position of prime minister, with a vote expected on Monday.

A new prime minister is expected to announce a new cabinet,
said government spokesman Johnson Honimae.

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

A dusk-to-dawn curfew is now in place in Honiara as heavily
armed foreign troops patrol the streets.

Last week's rioting in Honiara was fueled by rumors that
aid money from Taiwan was used to help elect Rini and that his
government was 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.

The Solomons was on the brink of collapse in 2003 due to
ethnic fighting, prompting Australia to lead a multinational
peacekeeping force to the island nation to restore peace.