Solomon Islanders Riot Over New Prime Minister

Mobs of Solomon Islanders looted stores, torched buildings and cars, and pelted police with stones Tuesday after lawmakers elected a new prime minister associated with a previous administration accused of corruption. Seven officers were injured.

Six of the injured officers were Australians, who are in the country to end years of communal violence. Australian Prime Minister John Howard said one officer suffered a broken jaw and another a suspected dislocated shoulder.

Howard added that he was prepared to send more forces to the troubled country if necessary.

"At this stage there does not appear to be a need for further forces, although if there is they will be sent," he told reporters in Canberra.

Late Tuesday a police spokesman in the capital, Honiara, said a seventh officer was slightly injured.

The rioters were enraged that lawmakers chose Snyder Rini as the new prime minister despite his close ties to former premier Sir Allan Kemakeza, who narrowly clung to his seat in April 5 parliamentary elections.

Kemakeza's People's Alliance Party lost 11 of its 20 seats in a vote seen as a protest against government corruption. Several of Kemakeza's ministers have been charged with corruption.

Some protesters jeered and others appeared stunned when they heard that Rini — who was deputy prime minister and a Cabinet minister under Kemakeza — had won, saying most Solomon Islanders had voted for change.

Rini told reporters the protesters had a democratic right to make their feelings known.

"However, if they were not happy with the results of today's election, they should forward their disagreement through proper channels, not on the streets," he said, according to the state-owned Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corp.

Rini was set to name his new 20-member Cabinet on Wednesday, and Parliament was expected to reconvene by April 30.

Solomon Islands police commissioner Shane Castles told The Associated Press by telephone that hundreds of rioters also torched seven police cars near the parliament building in the capital, Honiara.

But he said Rini was being protected and police had enough manpower "to monitor and contain these groups."

Late Tuesday, rioters set fire to several buildings in Honiara's Chinatown neighborhood, witnesses said. Police were in the area attempting to quell the violence and had set up roadblocks in other parts of town.

Police also evacuated the Honiara Hotel after a large crowd gathered outside, a police spokesman said.

More than 280 police officers from Australia and New Zealand have been in the Solomon Islands since 2003 helping the local force restore law and order in the chain of islands 2,385 miles northeast of New Zealand's capital, Wellington.

The foreign force had largely ended violence between rival islanders that had simmered for years, peaking with a coup in 2000.

Before Tuesday's upheaval, law and order had been slowly returning to the impoverished archipelago of 480,000 following the nation's ethnic conflict, which was sparked by a rivalry between migrants from the island of Malaita and indigenous landowners on the main island of Guadalcanal.