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Embattled Solomons PM resigns, sparking celebrations

Written by: Staff
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HONIARA, Apr 26 (Reuters) Solomon Islands Prime Minister Snyder Rini, whose election sparked rioting and looting, resigned today saying he no longer had the support of parliament, sparking celebrations on the streets of the capital.

Protests last week against Rini's election spiralled into widespread looting, targeting the tiny Chinese business population in Honiara, before the arrival of Australian and New Zealand troops to restore peace.

Rini said he hoped his decision to step down would bring peace to the Solomons, an impoverished nation of 992 islands spread out over 1.35 million sq km.

''I have no alternative but to tender my resignation as prime minister of the Solomon Islands,'' Rini told parliament shortly before a scheduled vote of no confidence against him.

The news was greeted by impromptu celebrations in the streets with people cheering and drivers honking their horns.

Rini had earlier said he was confident of surviving the vote, despite parliament being evenly divided with 25 MPs each for the government and opposition.

But when Rini entered parliament, five members of his new government were sitting with the opposition. He was then offered the chance to resign and announced he was stepping down.

Rini will formally tender his resignation to the head of state who will then allow four days for nominations for the position of prime minister, with a vote expected on Monday.

A new prime minister is expected to announce a new cabinet, said government spokesman Johnson Honimae.

Solomons voters ousted half their parliament in a national election in early April, but it was not enough to unseat the government. Corruption was the major election issue.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew is now in place in Honiara as heavily armed foreign troops patrol the streets.

Last week's rioting in Honiara was fuelled by rumours that aid money from Taiwan was used to help elect Rini and that his government was heavily influenced by local Chinese businessmen.

The city's Chinatown was destroyed, with buildings burnt to the ground. Hundreds of Chinese took shelter with the Red Cross before fleeing the country.

The Solomons was on the brink of collapse in 2003 due to ethnic fighting, prompting Australia to lead a multinational peacekeeping force to the island nation to restore peace.

REUTERS OM RAI0708

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