Comoros post-election clashes turn deadly as opposition calls protestThu, 18 Jan 2024 15:44:43 GMT

The post election crisis in the Comoros has intensified with the first reported death in street violence and a call from the opposition for a national day of protest on Friday against the “masquerade” of President Azali Assoumani’s  victory.The head of the emergency room at the El Maarouf hospital in the Comoros capital Moroni told reporters on Thursday that six wounded people had been admitted and that one 21-year-old had died, “very probably by gunshot”. One of the wounded was in critical condition, Dr Djabir Ibrahim said.The Comoros opposition has rejected the re-election of Assoumani, a former military ruler, alleging large-scale fraud, and demanded this week’s vote be annulled.Riding the wave of discontent, the defeated challengers called for a national day of protest against “the electoral masquerade” to be held Friday after weekly Muslim prayers.”The situation is extremely serious. There are victims among the resistant youth. We bow very respectfully to the memory of these valiant fighters for freedom, democracy and the rule of law,” they said. – Disputed vote -But the opposition has denied being behind what the candidates said was a “spontaneous” uprising. Reports of the first serious casualties emerged two days after the electoral authorities announced Assoumani’s win, triggering cat-and-mouse street battles between soldiers and angry opposition supporters.Braving teargas and torrential rain, a man in his twenties, his face hidden by a surgical mask, told AFP on Thursday why violence has erupted once again on this Indian Ocean island chain.”We’ve been fighting for more than 24 hours because we don’t agree with the election results. That’s why we burned down government buildings,” he said, after dodging a new salvo of gas. The youths have tried to block roads and streets in the capital Moroni, throwing stones at security forces, which in turn respond by driving them back to scatter and escape through alleys.  Assoumani’s victory is expected to be confirmed by the Comoros’ supreme court at the weekend, after the electoral commission declared he had won more than 60 percent in the first round vote.But the opposition points out that the unexpectedly low 16 percent turnout figure in the presidential vote falls far short of the figure for parallel governor polls.- Burned buildings -If the official tally is to be believed, 189,497 Comorans voted to choose governors for each of the three islands in the archipelago, but only 55,258 cast a vote for president.Assoumani, a 65-year-old former military chief of staff turned civilian ruler, has dismissed the concerns, and the interior ministry has declared a nightly curfew to curtail the spreading unrest.On Wednesday, buildings were vandalised, looted and burned — including the home of a minister, a state-run business and a major rice warehouse. Internet services have been severely disrupted since Wednesday, and some sites are inaccessible.Street protests are banned in the Comoros, a country that has seen more than 20 coups and attempted coups in its short period post independence in 1975, and several arrests have been made.But the young demonstrators are not deterred, and they are organising themselves.”This is the way we’ll escape, we need to keep this route clear,” suggested one young man, as a group prepared their latest hit-and-run from high ground in the capital. AFP could not independently assess the size of the protests, but reporters saw several groups of a few dozen protesters in action across the city during the day. Assoumani has seen many of his opponents jailed or exiled as he extends his increasingly autocratic grip over the country.In 2018, he pushed through a constitutional reform allowing him to centralise powers and his new victory should allow him to return for a third consecutive term and remain in power until 2029. The Comoros are among the poorest countries, with 45 percent of a population of 870,000 living below the poverty line and many migrants attempting to cross to the French island of Mayotte.str-cld-dc-ub/bp