Chronic unemployment and governance are the main triggers of public discontent that have morphed into a massive agitation.

Protesters in the Solomon Islands tried to storm the personal residence of Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare, set buildings on fire, including a police station, and looted shops on Friday. 

The police used tear gas to disperse the crowds as the protest rocked the country’s capital for the third straight day.

The protest began peacefully, but crowds tried to enter parliament by the afternoon in Honiara while it was holding a session.

According to AFP correspondents on the scene, thousands of people -- some brandishing axes and knives -- rampaged through the city's Chinatown, Point Cruz and business districts.

On Friday afternoon, the authorities imposed a curfew in Honiara as Papua New Guinea also committed to sending peacekeeping troops to the Solomon Islands.

Here is what we know about the unrest

What and who sparked the protests?

Protests turned violent as a result of frustrations at Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment made worse by the pandemic. Most protesters had traveled from the island of Malaita to Guadalcanal Island, which houses the country’s capital.

Experts say discontent has simmered for years between the two islands over allegedly unequal distribution of resources and lack of economic support. Protesters also opposed its 2019 decision to end diplomatic ties with Taiwan and establish formal links with China.

READ MORE: Solomon Islands' capital under curfew after three days of riots

In a letter obtained by AFP, Sogavare told his Papua New Guinea counterpart James Marape that "certain elements" had "attempted to overthrow a democratically elected government" and called for peacekeepers to be sent for a "period of three to four weeks”.

The pro-Beijing leader claimed foreign powers opposed to his 2019 decision to switch the Solomons' diplomatic allegiance from Taiwan to China were behind the disturbances.

How did China and Taiwan get involved?

The archipelago nation of around 700,000 people has for decades endured ethnic and political tensions. In the late 1990s Guadalcanal militants launched attacks on settlers, particularly targeting those from Malaita, and for five years unrest plagued the country.

The so-called "Tensions" only eased with the deployment of Australian-led peacekeeping missions that ran from 2003 to 2017.

The Australian government said its latest deployment was only expected to last "a matter of weeks".

Malaita residents have long complained that the central government neglects their island, and divisions intensified when Sogavare recognised Beijing.

READ MORE: Buildings set ablaze in Solomon Islands in anti-government protests

Malaita authorities opposed the move and maintained contact with the Taiwan authorities. The province continues to receive outsized aid from Taipei and Washington.

The province's premier, Daniel Suidani, has accused Sogavare of being in Beijing's pocket, alleging he had "elevated the interest of foreigners above those of Solomon Islanders".

Experts say geopolitical rivalry did not trigger the crisis directly, but it contributed.

What is the result of the protests?

Solomon Islands' resident Transform Aqorau said more than a hundred people were on Friday looting shops, before Australian Federal Police officers arrived.

"The scenes here are really chaotic. It is like a war zone,” Aqorau told Reuters by telephone on Friday morning.

"There is no public transport and it is a struggle with the heat and the smoke. Buildings are still burning."

He said later Australian police were "taking control of Chinatown".

Neighbouring Papua New Guinea also sent 35 police and security officers to Honiara on Friday.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Australia was sending 100 police personnel and was "clearly focused on stability in our region".

In Chinatown, a large warehouse was set alight, causing an explosion that sent scores of people fleeing from the scene in panic. 

A tobacco warehouse was also set alight as smoke from previous days fires cast parts of the devastated city of 80,000 people in an acrid haze.

The overrun Royal Solomon Islands Police Force said Friday they had made just two arrests, despite two police stations being among the many buildings burned.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies