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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 January 2007, 12:51 GMT
Australian 'in Solomons PM plot'
Solomon Islands PM Manasseh Sogavare
Manasseh Sogavare's ties with Australia are strained
An Australian man has appeared in court in the Solomon Islands charged with conspiring to murder the country's Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.

Bill Johnson was accused of plotting with a gang to kill Mr Sogavare in a motel in the capital, Honiara.

Ties between Australia and the Solomons have long been strained - Canberra's top diplomat was expelled in September.

Mr Sogavare accused Canberra, which has headed a peacekeeping force since 2003, of interfering in internal affairs.

In April last year, hundreds of extra international troops and police were rushed to the Solomons after elections sparked riots.

Ethnic fighting

Mr Johnson, a war veteran in his 60s who is married to a local woman, and at least two other unnamed men who are still at large were charged with the alleged conspiracy.

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Prosecutors said Mr Johnson and others planned to assassinate Mr Sogavare while he was staying at the Honiara City Motel this month.

"The prosecution said they have three documents so far which points to a strong case against the accused," government spokesman George Herming said in a statement.

Mr Johnson will appear in court again on 7 February.

An Australian department of foreign affairs and trade spokeswoman said he had been arrested on Monday and was refused bail.

"We expect the man's case to be handled according to due legal processes and that his safety and security be respected," she said.

The BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney says Mr Sogavare has overseen a turbulent period since coming to power last May following the post-election violence.

Australia led a multi-national peacekeeping force into the Solomons in July 2003 after years of ethnic fighting.

Rates of poverty and unemployment remain high and there have been allegations of widespread political corruption.

Prime Minister John Howard has said he wants more value from Canberra's A$840m ($646m) aid package for the Solomons.

Mr Sogavare says Australia has undermined a government inquiry into the post-election riots and has sided with the opposition.


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