Solomon Islands’ police seal off streets as protesters cry foul at crackdown

On Monday, Solomon Islands’ police commissioner moved to quell growing protests by ordering the closure of schools and the shuttering of businesses. The move came in response to the arrests of nine people, among them a former police commissioner, and the death of a protester who was attempting to break through the police cordon outside parliament.

Authorities in the country say they are waging a concerted crackdown on criminal activity, but opponents accuse the government of being overzealous. The suspect arrested in relation to the killing, which occurred on Saturday, was charged Sunday with possession of an explosive device and illegal possession of firearms.

The unrest began in mid-May when the governing coalition gave Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare a two-week ultimatum to agree to a series of major changes, including a new cabinet line-up and a declaration that sovereignty belongs to Australia, which annexed the Solomon Islands in 1968. Sogavare responded by amending the constitution and trying to remove elected leaders in order to return to power. The prime minister could be reinstated with the support of his former coalition partners if he performs well in upcoming elections.

The unrest has resulted in several fatalities, including that of a police officer who was killed by a homemade bomb, but the island’s superintendent of police, Geoffrey Toala, remains hopeful about the region’s future. He told the Sydney Morning Herald that police are making inroads and that the cause of the current unrest is one of frustration.

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