Australia sending troops, police to Solomons amid unrest

Australia sending troops, police to Solomons amid unrest
Protesters breached the National Parliament building, burned the thatched roof of a nearby building, and set fire to a police station and other buildings. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation via AP)
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Updated 25 November 2021

Australia sending troops, police to Solomons amid unrest

Australia sending troops, police to Solomons amid unrest
  • Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare had declared the lockdown Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in protest in the capital Honiara
  • Sogavare angered many in 2019 when he cut the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan

CANBERRA, Australia: Australia announced Thursday it was sending police, troops and diplomats to the Solomon Islands to help after anti-government demonstrators defied lockdown orders and took to the streets for a second day in violent protests.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the deployment would include a detachment of 23 federal police officers and up to 50 more to provide security at critical infrastructure sites, as well as 43 defense force personnel, a patrol boat and at least five diplomats.
The first personnel were to arrive Thursday night with more on Friday, and the deployment was expected to last for a few weeks, Morrison said.
“Our purpose here is to provide stability and security,” he said.
Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare declared a lockdown Wednesday after about 1,000 people gathered in protest in the capital Honiara demanding his resignation over a host of domestic issues.
The protesters breached the National Parliament building and burned the thatched roof of a nearby building, the government said. They also set fire to a police station and other buildings.
“They were intent on destroying our nation and ... the trust that was slowly building among our people,” the government said in a statement.
Morrison said Sogavare had requested assistance from Australia amid the violence under a bilateral security treaty.
“It is not the Australian government’s intention in any way to intervene in the internal affairs of the Solomon Islands. That is for them to resolve,” he said.
“Our presence there does not indicate any position on the internal issues of the Solomon Islands,” Morrison added.
Sogavare ordered the capital locked down from 7 p.m. Wednesday through 7 p.m. Friday after saying he had “witnessed another sad and unfortunate event aimed at bringing a democratically elected government down.”
“I had honestly thought that we had gone past the darkest days in the history of our country,” he said. “However, today’s events are a painful reminder that we have a long way to go.”
Despite an announcement from the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force that they would be conducting increased patrols through Honiara amid the lockdown, protesters again took to the streets Thursday.
Local journalist Gina Kekea posted photos on Twitter of a bank, shops and a school in flames.
Morrison said he decided to send help after it became clear that police in the Solomons were “stretched.”
Sogavare angered many in 2019, particularly leaders of the Solomon Islands’ most populous province Malaita, when he cut the country’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan, switching its diplomatic allegiance to China instead.
Local media reported that many of the protesters were from Malaita, whose premier Daniel Suidani has been at odds with Sogavare, who he accuses of being too close to Beijing.
Suidani said he was not responsible for the violence in Honiara, but told the Solomon Star News that he agreed with the calls for Sogavare to resign.
“Over the last 20 years Mannaseh Sogavare has been in power, the plight of Solomon Islanders has worsened whilst at the same time foreigners have reaped the best of the country’s resources,” Suidani was quoted as saying. “People are not blind to this and do not want to be cheated anymore.”


Travel curbs aimed at COVID variant tighten across the world

Travel curbs aimed at COVID variant tighten across the world
Updated 6 sec ago

Travel curbs aimed at COVID variant tighten across the world

Travel curbs aimed at COVID variant tighten across the world
HONG KONG: Australian officials were racing Sunday to conduct further tests on passengers arriving from southern Africa who tested positive for COVID-19 to determine if they were carrying the omicron variant as nations around the world tightened controls against the worrying new strain.
Neighboring New Zealand announced it was restricting travel from nine southern African countries because of the threat posed by the variant, and Japan widened its border controls to include more countries from the region. Tourist-dependent Thailand, which only recently began loosening its tight border restrictions to leisure travelers from certain countries, announced a ban of its own on visitors from eight African counties. Similar restrictions took effect in the business hub of Singapore, which is barring entry and transit to anyone with a recent history of travel to seven southern African nations.
The tighter restrictions in the Asia-Pacific region echoed steps rapidly taken by countries around the world to limit the spread of the omicron variant just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa. The act first, ask questions later approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant nearly two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, upended lives and disrupted economies across the globe.
While much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to the protection provided by vaccines and could mean that the pandemic lasts for longer than anticipated.
Cases involving the omicron variant have already been confirmed on multiple continents, with Germany, Italy, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong all reporting cases in recent days.
The United States’ top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he would not be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the US, too.
“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility ... it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said on NBC television.
In Australia, the New South Wales health department said Sunday that urgent genomic testing was being done on samples taken from two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa the day before and tested positive on arrival.
The department said the travelers were from one of nine African countries that are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in Sydney. The countries are South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi and the Seychelles.
New Zealand’s COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the island nation was taking a precautionary approach. From late Sunday, only New Zealand citizens from nine African countries will be allowed entry to New Zealand, and they will be required to spend two weeks in a quarantine hotel run by the military.
Hipkins said officials were confident the variant hadn’t entered New Zealand and they were well placed to keep it out.
Many countries have slapped restrictions on various southern African countries over the past couple of days, including Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran and the US, in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant. This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied.

Omicron variant likely to be circulating in France — health minister

Omicron variant likely to be circulating in France — health minister
Updated 57 min 38 sec ago

Omicron variant likely to be circulating in France — health minister

Omicron variant likely to be circulating in France — health minister
  • The government was tightening restrictions to contain the spread of the virus

PARIS: The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is probably already circulating in France, its health minister said on Sunday, adding that the government was tightening restrictions to contain its spread.
“There is no identification yet, but it’s a matter of hours,” Olivier Veran told reporters at a vaccination center in Paris.


Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him
Updated 28 November 2021

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him

Solomon Islands PM says riots ‘orchestrated’ to remove him
  • The prime minister said violence that swept the capital had been orchestrated by a few people to topple him

SYDNEY: The prime minister of the Solomon Islands defied pressure to resign Sunday, saying violent rioting that swept the capital had been orchestrated by a few people with “evil intention” to topple him.
“It is very clear that the recent events were well planned and orchestrated to remove me as the prime minister for unsubstantiated reasons,” Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare said in an address broadcast to the Pacific island nation.
“I want to show the nation that the government is fully intent and nothing will move us. We must and will never bow down to the evil intention of a few people,” Sogavare said.
Many residents of the Pacific island nation of 800,000 people believe their government is corrupt and beholden to Beijing and other foreign interests.
Protesters have channelled their anger directly at Sogavare and his government, with mobs attempting to torch parliament and the prime minister’s private residence as police fired tear gas and warning shots.
Sogavare has previously blamed the three days of violence — during which rioters incinerated swathes of the capital before the unrest died down at the weekend — on an unscrupulous few leading others astray with false information.
“We must and will never bow down to the evil intention of a few people. We must stand up to intimidation, bullying and violence. We owe this to our children and the majority of our people who cannot defend themselves,” the Solomon Islands leader said.
He said the violence, centered on the capital’s Chinatown, had caused 200 million Solomon Islander dollars ($25 million) in damage and destroyed 1,000 jobs in an economy already squeezed by the impact of the pandemic.
Sogavare said the government was working on a recovery package to help damaged businesses recover.
The prime minister repeated a promise to hold the unidentified “instigators” responsible.
“Rest assured that they will face the full brunt of the law and arrests are already being made as investigations continue, with more arrests to follow,” he said.


Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks
Updated 28 November 2021

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks

Iranian, Chinese and Russian diplomats meet ahead of nuclear talks
  • Bilateral and trilateral meetings were held in Vienna ahead of a resumption in nuclear talks to revive a 2015 agreement between Iran and major powers

DUBAI: Iran’s negotiating team, led by Ali Bagheri Kani, held bilateral and trilateral meetings in Vienna on Sunday, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported, ahead of a resumption in nuclear talks to revive a 2015 agreement between Iran and major powers.
“The Iranian team arrived on Saturday in Vienna and started meetings which continued on Sunday at an expert level with the heads of the Russian and Chinese negotiating teams, as well as the EU Coordinator Enrique Mora,” Iranian diplomat Mohammadreza Ghaebi told ISNA.


Australia confirms two cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant

Australia confirms two cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant
Updated 28 November 2021

Australia confirms two cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant

Australia confirms two cases of COVID-19 Omicron variant
  • Both passengers came from southern Africa and arrived in Australia
  • Another 12 passengers from southern Africa in the same flight did not test positive for COVID-19 but have been placed in quarantine

SYDNEY: Australia confirmed on Sunday that two people arriving from southern Africa over the weekend had tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant, adding to a growing number of countries fighting the highly infectious strain.
Health officials in New South Wales, the most populous state, said both passengers had arrived in the state capital, Sydney, on Saturday evening and tested positive for COVID-19 late that night, before genome sequencing confirmed the Omicron variant on Sunday.
Australia joins Britain, Germany and Italy in detecting Omicron cases over the weekend as more nations imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa.
Both people were asymptomatic, fully vaccinated and in quarantine, said NSW Health. Another 12 passengers from southern Africa were also in 14 days of hotel quarantine, while around 260 other passengers and aircrew have been directed to isolate.
“Close contacts will be contacted regularly, and compliance checks will be undertaken,” the health department said in a statement.
Australia imposed new restrictions https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/australia-declare-new-travel-curbs-due-new-virus-strain-media-2021-11-27 on Saturday on people who have been to nine southern African countries, as the highly infectious variant raises concerns about another wave of the pandemic.
The countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.
New Zealand announced fresh measures from Sunday evening.
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said late on Saturday that only New Zealand citizens will be allowed to travel into the country from the nine southern African nations.
Citizens would be required to stay in managed isolation for a full 14 days, as well as undergo testing, he said in a statement.
Australia early this month eased its international border restrictions for the first time during the pandemic, allowing fully vaccinated residents to return to the country without quarantine after higher vaccination levels.
Australia had largely stamped out infections for most of this year until an outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant in late June spread rapidly across its east. About 205,000 cases and 1,985 deaths have been recorded so far, lower than many other countries in the developed world.