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Three burned bodies found in Solomon Islands’ Chinatown following days of violent protests

Three charred bodies have been found in a burned-out building in the Chinatown district of the Solomon Islands’ capital, Honiara — the first reported fatalities after three days of violent protests that saw more than 100 people arrested.

Police are investigating the cause of their death and their identities, and do not have further information to disclose at this point, Solomon Islands police media officer Desmond Rave told CNN on Saturday.

“Honiara is quite tense at the moment, but the city is getting back to normal,” Rave said.

Australian Army soldiers talk with local citizens in Honiara, Solomon Islands
Australian Army soldiers talk with local citizens during a community engagement patrol through Honiara. Three bodies have been found following days of rioting in the country. (Australian Defence Force/CPL Brandon Grey)

Security forces have been unable to halt unrest in Honiara that began on Wednesday with protesters demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare and the looting and burning of shops and businesses.

Many of the protesters come from the most populous province of Malaita, where there is resentment toward the government and opposition to its 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal links with China, according to Reuters.

Demonstrators are also calling for the government to limit ties with China, respect the rights of self-determination of the Malaita people, and to resume development projects in Malaita province.

An Australian Army Corporal on patrol though Honiara, Solomon Islands
An Australian Army Corporal during a patrol though Honiara, Solomon Islands. (Australian Defence Force/CPL Brandon Grey)

More than 100 people have been arrested as of Saturday, according to police, who appealed to rioters to stop looting and burning buildings and warned of further arrests if the unrest does not stop.

To bolster local police, troops from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) arrived in Honiara on Friday, Australia’s High Commissioner to the Islands confirmed on Saturday.

Sharing a photograph of a RAAF C-17 troop transporter landing in the capital, Dr Lachlan Strahan, Australian High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands tweeted, “The ADF arrives in Honiara!”.

Local women from Honiara, Solomon Islands, sell produce at markets
Local women from Honiara sell produce at the re-opened markets after the riots through the region. (Australian Defence Force/CPL Brandon Grey)

Australia’s Joint Operations Command released photos on Saturday of soldiers from the Army’s 3rd Brigade, 6th Brigade and 17th Brigade disembarking military transport aircraft as part of the “emergency assistance mission”.

The Australian peacekeepers have been deployed at the request of the government of the Solomon Islands.

Their arrival comes after a third night of violence that saw the Prime Minister’s residence come under attack and large parts of the capital reduced to ashes, according to Agence France-Presse journalists in Honiara.

An Australian Army soldier talks with local citizens in Honiara, Solomon Islands
An Australian Army soldier talks with local citizens in Honiara. (Australian Defence Force/CPL Brandon Grey)

Australia’s Ministry of Defence said it had also deployed the Royal Australian Navy patrol boat HMAS Armidale to the Islands to support local forces in maritime security.

Papua New Guinea also deployed a security team to the Solomon Islands on Friday following a request from the Pacific island nation, PNG Prime Minister James Marape said in a statement.

The security team, composed of 20 police and 15 correctional service members, is deployed to assist Solomon Islands’ police to “stop looting and vandalism” in Honiara, and is subject to increase if the need arises, the statement read.

An Australian Army soldier talks with a local police officer in Honiara, Solomon Islands
An Australian Army soldier with a local police officer. (Australian Defence Force/CPL Brandon Grey)

The Solomon Islands government on Friday declared a nightly curfew and advised all public servants to stay at home.

The curfew will last from 7pm to 6am daily, effective from Friday.

“During the period, only authorised officers are allowed to move within the city,” a government statement said.

An Australian Army Corporal is greeted by a local child in Honiara, Solomon Islands
Australian Defence Force personnel have been ddeployed to the Solomon Islands. (Australian Defence Force/CPL Brandon Grey)

On Friday, the central government advised all public servants to stay at home due to the unrest, with the exception of essential workers, and encouraged staff to ensure they had food supplies “due to the uncertainty of the current situation”.

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On Thursday, a local journalist said fires were blazing in Chinatown, and the police had lost control in eastern Honiara.

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