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Australia, NZ send troops as Solomons riots worsen

By Staff
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CANBERRA, Apr 19 (Reuters) Australia and New Zealand will send 235 troops and police to the Solomon Islands today to quell two days of rioting and looting sparked by the election of a new prime minister in the South Pacific nation.

Police in riot gear looked on as a crowd of about 1,500 people looted and burned shops and buildings, many of them Chinese owned, in the Solomons capital Honiara, local media reported as a dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed.

''There is a lot of fear. People are just hoping the military will calm things down,'' government spokesman Johnson Honimae said.

Schools, banks, supermarkets, post offices and other government buildings were closed as the rioting stretched into a second day.

The Pacific Casino Hotel and three other Honiara buildings were in flames after they were attacked by stone-throwing protesters. Police evacuated about 150 hotel guests, Honimae said, while others were seen fleeing by boat.

Rioters claimed the new government of Snyder Rini would be heavily influenced by local Chinese businessmen and the Taiwan government, which the Solomons recognises diplomatically.

Chinese families living above their stores jumped for their lives from burning buildings and swam across a nearby river to escape rioters late yesterday, the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation (SIBC) reported.

There were some minor injuries among Chinese residents.

Honiara's Chinatown district was mostly razed in the violence sparked by Rini's election yesterday.

''Some of this rioting was sparked by allegations made by Snyder Rini's political opponents that he was in receipt of Chinese, meaning I think largely Taiwanese, money,'' Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told Australian television.

China and Taiwan have long battled for diplomatic recognition from South Pacific nations. A recent Australian Senate report on China said the diplomatic competition could hurt political stability and economic development in the South Pacific.

More Reuters SRS DS1326

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