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Chrisnrita Leong in Auki, Solomon Islands and foreign affairs reporter Stephen Dziedzic 

Solomon Islands police tear gas supporters of ousted pro-Taiwan provincial premier after no-confidence vote

Police in the Solomon Islands town of Auki have fired tear gas on dozens of protesters after a prominent provincial leader lost a controversial no-confidence vote.

Daniel Suidani, a fierce critic of his country's relations with China, was ousted as premier of Malaita Province this morning after 17 provincial assembly members voted to remove him.

Mr Suidani has been a major thorn in the side of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, and tensions between the national government and Malaita – the most populous province in the country – have been steadily worsening since Mr Sogavare switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China.

The premier has repeatedly pushed for Malaita to declare independence from Solomon Islands and has refused Chinese aid.

He gained international prominence when he campaigned against the contentious China Solomon Islands security pact, accusing Beijing of using bribery and corruption to capture Mr Sogavare's government.

Mr Suidani has also maintained ties with Taiwanese diplomats while accusing Mr Sogavare's government of hoarding resources in the capital Honiara while neglecting development across Malaita.

The violent riots that shook Honiara in November 2021 were sparked by Malaita protesters who travelled from the province to demand that Mr Sogavare resign.

Mr Suidani and assembly members supporting him did not attend this morning's vote against him, which was unanimous. He has not yet spoken to the press about the result.

The premier's supporters say he filed a motion of appeal in the Solomon Islands High Court questioning the speaker's decision to allow the no-confidence vote to be held.

Scuffles broke out in the wake of the vote, with protesters demanding the Assembly keep Mr Suidani in place.

The unrest escalated when more than a hundred protesters attempted to pass through a police cordon, with the police firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

There have been no reports of injuries, but Auki has been placed on lockdown and flights out of the island have been delayed.

Dispute predates geopolitical tussle  

Mihai Sora from the Lowy Institute said Mr Suidani had faced down previous motions of no-confidence in 2021, and that tensions between Malaita and the central government had long plagued Solomon Islands.

"There is speculation that Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare financed these motions against Suidani, backed by money from China, which would be glad to see the premier removed," he said.

"It's important to note that tensions between Malaita and Honiara go back many years, predating the current geopolitical jostling, but they have indeed been wrapped up in the current narrative of competition for influence in Solomon Islands."

Mr Sora said the motion of no-confidence "removes a vocal critic of the prime minister" but also warned it might also "further inflame internal divisions in Solomon Islands."

"It's going to be important that local community leaders actively seek to diffuse tensions at this sensitive time."

Protests in Solomon Islands after China-skeptic's ousting
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