MELBOURNE, Australia — Protests rocked the capital of the Solomon Islands on Thursday for the second straight day as people clashed with the police and demanded that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare resign. Some set buildings ablaze and looted stores.
Protesters were met by police tear gas and rubber bullets on Wednesday after they stormed the national Parliament in the capital, Honiara, and set a police station and buildings in Chinatown on fire, the authorities said. On Thursday, more buildings went up in flames. Outnumbered, the police set up a heavily guarded barricade to stop demonstrators from entering the city’s main business district.
On Thursday afternoon, the Australian government announced that, after a request for assistance from Mr. Sogavare, it would send a peacekeeping force to the Solomon Islands.
Here’s what we know about the unrest.
Who and what are behind the protests?
Many of the protesters had traveled from the island of Malaita to Guadalcanal Island, which houses the nation’s capital, according to officials and local news reports.
Experts say discontent has simmered for decades between the two islands, mainly over a perceived unequal distribution of resources and a lack of economic support that has left Malaita one of the least-developed provinces in the island nation.
There has also been lingering dissatisfaction in Malaita over the central government’s decision in 2019 to switch diplomatic allegiances to Beijing from Taipei, Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its territory.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Beijing of bribing Solomons politicians to abandon Taipei in the run-up to the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under the Communist Party.
How did the Solomon Islands become the focus of world powers?
The Solomon Islands is an archipelago made up of nearly a thousand islands in the Pacific, about 1,000 miles northeast of Australia. The island chain has a population of 710,000, primarily farmers and fishers.
Malaita is the most populous of the islands, with residents numbering 160,500 as of last year. Densely forested, mountainous and volcanic, it lies 30 miles northeast of Guadalcanal, the larger island, across Indispensable Strait.
The island nation found itself in a heightened geopolitical tug of war because of the 2019 decision, which dealt a blow both to Taipei’s global standing and to Washington’s regional diplomacy.
The United States sees the Solomon Islands, and other Pacific nations, as crucial in preventing China from asserting influence in the region.
China has been investing heavily in the Pacific, to the alarm of U.S. officials. In 2019, a Chinese company signed an agreement to lease one of the islands, but the agreement was subsequently ruled illegal by the attorney general of the Solomon Islands.
This is not the first time China’s presence on the islands has been a source of contention. In 2006, riots broke out amid rumors that the election of an unpopular prime minister had been influenced by Chinese or Taiwanese money.
How did the switch in allegiances affect the country?
Some experts draw a straight line from the 2019 decision to…