April 27, 2006

Solomons lifts curfew, troops patrol capital

By Walter Nalangu

HONIARA (Reuters) - The Solomon Islands head of state
lifted a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the capital Honiara on Thursday
but foreign troops and police remained on the streets to
prevent fresh riots sparked by the election of a premier.

Protests last week against the election of Snyder Rini as
prime minister spiraled into two days of looting, targeting the
tiny Chinese business population in Honiara, before the arrival
of Australian and New Zealand troops to restore peace.

Rini resigned on Wednesday, saying he no longer had the
support of parliament. A new prime minister will be elected in
a secret parliamentary ballot on May 4.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said
regardless of who was elected prime minister, the island nation
would struggle to end corruption and political instability.

"Corruption is endemic in the Solomon Islands, it's an
enormous problem," Downer told Sydney radio on Thursday.

"Regardless of who they appoint as prime minister, I don't
think you can say that that's going to overcome the
instability," he said. "The instability is also pretty

Voters ousted half the parliament in a national election in
April dominated by corruption. Seven ministers in the last
government faced graft charges.

Rini said he hoped his decision to step down would bring
peace to the impoverished South Pacific nation of 992 islands
spread out over 1.35 million sq km (520,000 sq miles).

His resignation was greeted with street celebrations. But
jockeying for the prime minister's job is seeing MPs swapping
allegiances in the fluid world of Solomons politics and it is
unclear whether voters will be happy with their new leader.

Governor-General Sir Nathaniel Waena lifted the curfew in
Honiara after meeting Commissioner of Police Shane Castles, a
government statement said on Thursday.

Castles said the lifting of the curfew would allow
businesses to return to normal but added police and troops
would still patrol the streets. More than 100 people were
arrested following the unrest, including two politicians.

The Solomons, once a British protectorate known as "The
Happy Isles," was on the brink of collapse in 2003 because of
ethnic fighting, prompting Australia to lead a multinational
peacekeeping force to restore peace.

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 Solomon Islands High Court refused bail on Thursday to
two MPs charged with being involved in the protests.

The prosecutor told the court that Nelson Ne'e, who
represents central Honiara, had threatened to "chop the
throats" of five MPs if they did not support the opposition.