Solomon police arrest opposition party figure

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Police in the restive Solomon Islands said Tuesday they had arrested a leading member of the opposition in connection with deadly riots that rocked the country last month.

United Party president John Kwaita was reportedly arrested by armed police at his home late Monday on unspecified charges.

“We can confirm that a prominent Solomon Islander has been arrested yesterday evening in relation to the rioting,” a police spokesman told AFP.

Late last month anti-government protests sparked widespread looting and arson in the capital Honiara, causing US$67 million worth of damage and leaving the city’s Chinatown district in ruins.

At least three people died in the violence, which also caused the snap deployment of around 200 peacekeepers from Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.

The protests were sparked by opposition to veteran Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, who is keen to forge closer ties with Beijing.

His rule is opposed by the leaders of Malaita — the Solomons’ most populous island.

Kwaita is from Malaita and his United Party’s two members of parliament had backed a failed vote of no confidence against Sogavare earlier this month.

Ally Peter Kenilorea told supporters late Monday that Kwaita, “one of our nation’s prominent leaders”, was in police custody.

“I call for calm at this time. I am still trying to ascertain further details and what charges are being laid against him,” he added.

Meanwhile, Kenilorea has confirmed that Kwaita was released Tuesday afternoon.

“I am pleased to inform that he has been released and is now back with his family at their family home after spending last night at central police station and a good part of today(Tuesday) being interviewed by police investigators.

“I have spoken with him and he is in high spirits.

“I have since sighted that John was charged for offenses under the SOPE regulations and Penal Code for unauthorised public assembly and public Procession.

“I stand with John in maintaining his innocence.

“But given that the matter is an active and ongoing police investigation, I will not be commenting on the matter further at this time,” said Kenilorea.

SOURCE: AFP/PACNEWS