Page last updated at 12:34 GMT, Thursday, 20 April 2006 13:34 UK

Fears of fresh Solomons violence

A boy cycles past the burnt-out remains of stores in Chinatown, Honiara
Honiara is said to be tense but calm after two days of riots

There are fears of fresh violence in the Solomon Islands following the swearing in of a new prime minister.

The announcement of Snyder Rini's appointment this week sparked two days of rioting that has left parts of the capital, Honiara, in ruins.

The swearing-in ceremony, postponed from Wednesday, went ahead unannounced for fear it could spark more unrest.

Hundreds protested, claiming Mr Rini is corrupt and favours Chinese businessmen, charges he denies.

Much of Honiara's Chinatown area was razed in the rioting, during which some families were forced to jump from burning buildings.

Dozens of Chinese families fled their homes and are now being cared for by the local Red Cross. China is flying in diplomats to arrange shelter for some 500 nationals, an official spokesman in Beijing said.

The atmosphere in Honiara is tense but quiet after police imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew on the city.

'Sobering effect'

"It is of concern that when [Mr Rini's swearing in] becomes known, it might provoke further disorder," New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark told reporters in Wellington.

New Zealand was sending in some troops to back up those sent by Australia on Wednesday to help restore calm.

Snyder Rini
Mr Rini will announce a new cabinet on Friday, officials say

They are on standby as news of Mr Rini's swearing-in breaks in the South Pacific nation.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said the presence of the troops was "having a sobering effect" on the trouble-makers, but that "doesn't mean the situation won't get bad again".

A local government spokesman told Reuters news agency Mr Rini was sworn in at Government House on Thursday, and would announce his Cabinet on Friday.

The riots began after Mr Rini, the 56-year-old former deputy prime minister, beat off two main rivals in Tuesday's secret ballot for the leadership among 50 newly-elected MPs.

He is accused of being too closely linked to former Prime Minister Allan Kemakeza's administration, which was tainted by corruption allegations.

Demonstrators also claim that the new government is heavily influenced by the Taiwan government and local Chinese businessmen.

Long-standing tensions

The BBC's Phil Mercer says the lawlessness in Honiara has taken the authorities by surprise.

The security situation across the Solomons archipelago had improved since the Australian-led mission arrived in 2003, after years of tribal violence had resulted in the breakdown of law and order.


The conflict - between indigenous residents of the main island of Guadalcanal and settlers from the island of Malaita - was fought over land rights and jobs.

But what the foreign forces have been unable to soothe are the political tensions that have for many years divided this troubled South Pacific nation, our correspondent says.

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