Renewed clashes rock Comoros island

16 October 2018 - 14:06 By AFP
Comoros president Azali Assoumani at the United Nations' general assembly last year. (File photo)
Comoros president Azali Assoumani at the United Nations' general assembly last year. (File photo)
Image: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters

Government forces and opponents of president Azali Assoumani exchanged gunfire on the Comoros island of Anjouan on Tuesday, said residents of the main town Mutsamudu.

Instability has rocked the Indian Ocean archipelago since July when Assoumani won a referendum on constitutional changes that includes ending the traditional rotation of the presidency between the country's three main islands after one term.

Assoumani, from Grand Comore island, launched a crackdown on rivals following the poll, which was boycotted by opposition parties and which he won with 92.74 percent support.

Gunfire erupted in Mutsamudu on Monday when security forces deployed to dismantle barricades erected by anti-government activists who authorities accused of being armed members of the Juwa opposition party.

Officials imposed an overnight curfew on Mutsamudu but there was unrest in the medina, a warren of narrow streets and alleyways, witnesses said by phone.

Some protesters were armed with automatic weapons, said witnesses. "They wore balaclavas, wore military uniforms and occupied the medina," said a former soldier.

"The security forces weren't able to penetrate, they were too exposed and it would have been a turkey shoot." The army, loyal to Assoumani, blocked key entrances and exits to the market on Tuesday, residents said.

Under July's constitutional changes, Assoumani, who previously came to power in a military coup and was elected in 2016, will be able to run for consecutive terms.

He has indicated that he hopes to stage polls next year which would allow him to reset his term limits and theoretically govern until 2029. His critics have accused him of a "dictatorial power grab".