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HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, April 21) – The devastated Solomon Islands capital was quiet last night, under a 12-hour curfew enforced by newly arrived troops from Australia and New Zealand after two days of unprecedented looting and arson in Honiara.

The 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew was imposed yesterday following violence in the streets after newly elected parliamentarians elected insider Snyder Rini as prime minister.

Rini, who was deputy prime minister under former Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza, is seen by some as continuing unpopular policies of the Kemakeza regime.

But despite the wild demonstrations, Rini yesterday was officially sworn in as the Solomons’ eighth prime minister and met with members of his supporting coalition to hash out a cabinet under his new administration. According to the Solomon Star, Rini’s swearing in ceremony took place at Government House under tight security and without the presence of the media. The ceremony was conducted by Governor General Nathaniel Waena, a government spokesman confirmed.

Rini’s cabinet was to be announced today.

Earlier, the competing Grand Coalition of Parties, which backed rival candidate Job Dudley Tausinga, questioned the legality of Rini’s election, saying the new parliamentarians themselves had yet to be formally sworn in. But Attorney General Primo Afeau reportedly responded that members of parliament need not to be sworn in under oath before electing a prime minister.

The Grand Coalition yesterday released a statement questioning the legality of Rini’s selection and calling on the Governor General to convene parliament to resolve the situation. The coalition also said it has gained two new members in parliament and hopes to support a motion of no confidence in Rini.

"The only option available to him is to respect the popular demand for him to resign," the coalition’s statement says. "We must avoid putting the government into further disrepute, delays in the reconstruction of the economy and avoid misery to the lives of the Solomon Islanders. This country needs peace and national unity."

Rini’s selection by newly elected members of parliament over rival candidates Job Dudley Tausinga and Manasseh Sogavare triggered a major riot in Honiara yesterday, with crowds estimated as high as 900 demanding the new prime minister’s immediate resignation.

New Zealand yesterday sent 30 police and 25 army personnel, joining 110 Australian troops and 80 federal police that arrived earlier. The reinforcements add to about 280 members of a regional peacekeeping force called the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI).

The violence, in which more than 20 Australian and local police and military personnel were reportedly injured - erupted after the announcement that outgoing Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza’s former deputy, Snyder Rini, will replace him as the government’s leader.

The target of most damage were businesses operated by Asians in Honiara, including the Casino Hotel where about 100 guests were evacuated for their safety. At least ten buildings in Honiara’s Chinatown district were destroyed.

The Chinese community was apparently targeted because of allegations that new lawmakers were bribed to back Rini for the benefit of Asian businesses.

According to the Australian Associated Press (AAP), eight Australian Federal Police officers were hurt in the riots, which saw rock throwing, looting, and the torching of nine police cars belonging to the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI). One officer reportedly suffered a fractured skull and broken jaw while others reported less serious injuries.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard called the riots "deplorable."

Australia in the summer of 2003 led a military force of about 2,000 to quell lawlessness in the Solomons, which had been terrorized by murderous gangs and plagued by corruption. The peacekeepers, known as the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI), succeeded in restoring order and gradually was scaled down in number.

April 21, 2006

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