Sat, Apr 22, 2006 - Page 5 News List

New Solomons PM defies call to resign

PROTECTION Australia doubled its troop deployment in the wake of violent protests amid claims that the Solomon Islands' prime minister rose to power through corruption

AP , HONIARA

Children take advantage of the situation in Honiara, the Solomon Islands, yesterday to play in the pool of the burnt down Casino Hotel. Scores of Australian soldiers and federal police were deployed to Honiara on Wednesday to restore peace after rioters and looters destroyed much of Chinatown in the island nation's capital in protests sparked by the election of a new prime minister.

PHOTO: AP

The new prime minister of the Solomon Islands yesterday defiantly ruled out resigning to ease tensions in his troubled nation, as Australia said it was doubling the number of its troops deployed in a show of "overwhelming force" to head off more rioting in the capital, Honiara.

"I was elected through a democratic process and according to the country's constitution," Prime Minister Snyder Rini told reporters, adding that he would not step down and was confident of beating a no-confidence vote next week in Parliament aimed at unseating him.

Rini also accused opponents of threatening two of his supporters in Parliament to make them vote against him next week.

"The two MPs have been threatened, they are not going to the other side. They are staying with us, the motion will be defeated," Rini said after naming a 21-member Cabinet.

Rini's election as prime minister this week sparked the worst riots to hit Honiara in years, with 90 percent of the city's Chinatown looted and torched and some 20 foreign police on peacekeeping duty injured by a rock-hurling mob. Protesters accuse Rini of rising to power through corruption -- a claim he angrily denied.

"I would like to challenge those who make these allegations, to take them to the police," he said.

Rini's comments came after Australia doubled the 110 armed troops it has patrolling the streets of Honiara in an effort to prevent future protests.

"It is far more desirable to deter troublemakers in a situation like this than to fight a pitched battle," Australian Prime Minister John Howard told the Southern Cross Broadcasting radio network. "If they think there is overwhelming force, they won't try trouble in the first place."

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark also boosted troop numbers, sending another 53 soldiers, on top of 25 dispatched on Thursday.

"The extra troops are required to help give broader coverage of Honiara, better protection of infrastructure, and greater capacity to investigate and apprehend key offenders," Clark said.

Armed Australian and New Zealand troops and police already in Honiara continued to patrol streets and man roadblocks yesterday as workers returned to their offices after days of unrest and residents began cleaning up neighborhoods razed in the orgy of rioting, looting and arson.

The Solomon Islands has no military and the presence of heavily armed foreign troops on the streets has quickly reined in the rioting that began on Tuesday following Rini's election.

The Solomons' Police Commissioner Shane Castles said 22 people were arrested overnight for looting and breaching the dawn-to-dusk curfew.

Police are monitoring opposition groups and do not believe they are plotting more violence, Castles said in Honiara.

"The situation is relatively calm -- but it's still fragile," said Paul Ashe, a special coordinator with the regional intervention force providing about 650 troops and police to restore law and order.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he would meet Rini in Honiara on Saturday.

"I hope to discuss at length with him what strategies his government will adopt to address deep-seated tensions within Solomon Islands society," Downer said in a statement.

"I will be encouraging him to commit his government to move forward on crucial measures to improve good governance, address corruption and work towards economic prosperity for Solomon Islands," Downer said.

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