Tensions as Comoros opposition demands vote annulmentWed, 17 Jan 2024 11:36:46 GMT

Opposition leaders in the Comoros demanded Wednesday that this week’s presidential election be declared void, as police fired tear gas on protesters angered at the re-election of President Azali Assoumani.Election officials said Assoumani had won 62.97 percent of the vote in Sunday’s ballot, but the five opposition challengers have cried foul, alleging ballot-stuffing and fraud.”Incontestably these ballots of Sunday January 14, 2024 are invalid. We denounce them and demand their pure and simple annulment,” the candidates said, in a joint statement.Earlier, security forces responded with tear gas and arrests after protesters tried to block roads in the capital.Debris and burning tyres were scattered in several streets of Moroni and the Indian Ocean archipelago’s largest street market lay deserted in the morning after the disputed poll results were announced.Government spokesman Houmed Msaidie, speaking to AFP, accused the opposition of organising the protests.”There have been arrests, but I can’t give you the figure for the moment. It’s totally normal when there are people out there who want to disturb public order,” Msaidie said.There have been no reports of deadly violence, but the Comoros — a three-island chain that is home to around 870,000 people — is politically volatile and has seen 20 coups or attempted coups in its short history since independence in 1975.Official results released Tuesday showed Assoumani, a former coup leader turned civilian president, won re-election in the first round.- ‘Flagrant fraud’ -But official turnout was unexpectedly low at 16 percent and large discrepancies in the number of votes reportedly cast for the presidential and regional governor races have raised doubts about its regularity. The opposition candidates said they were “horrified” to note that the official results implied improbably that more than two-thirds of people voted to elect island governors but failed to cast a presidential ballot in a parallel vote in the same polling stations.   “It’s impossible,” they said, adding this called into question the veracity of the official results. “There is nothing to say: a flagrant fraud has been committed.”Police, gendarmes and armed soldiers were deployed in large numbers as the day began. They used tear gas to drive civilians from the streets and back into their homes.In the working-class Coulee district in the north of the city, groups of youths threw stones at the troops, but many residents were making ready to flee, anticipating further tension.”Everyone is gone. I’m going too. I was tear-gassed,” said Amina, a stallholder in the normally bustling Volo-Volo market, now just rows of empty wooden stands.