- Arrest - demonstrations - Djibouti - politics
Opposition leaders arrested in wake of protests
Djibouti authorities detained three opposition leaders on Saturday, a day after two people were killed as thousands protested against President Ismael Omar Guelleh. Guelleh altered the constitution last year to allow him to seek re-election in April.
AFP - The authorities in Djibouti on Saturday detained three top opposition leaders a day after an unprecedented protest to demand regime change erupted into violence that left two dead.
The arrests came after thousands of youths descended into the streets for an Egypt-style protest aimed at ousting President Ismael Omar Guelleh, who amended the constitution last year to seek another term in April 8 elections.
The three are National Democratic Party chairman Aden Robleh Awaleh, Djibouti Democratic Party chairman Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Ismail Guedi Hared, whose Union for Democratic Change organised Friday's demonstration.
They "were detained Saturday in connection with the violent clashes that erupted Friday evening between the demonstrators and security forces," Djibouti state prosecutor Djama Souleiman told reporters.
Friday's protest was unprecedented in the tiny Horn of Africa country, a key regional ally of the West which sits directly across the strategic Bab al Mandab strait from Yemen, where similar protests have been raging for a week.
The demonstration had started peacefully but droves of young opposition supporters -- several thousand according to the organisers -- dug in at the entrance of Djibouti's main stadium for the long haul.
Clashes then broke out between demonstrators hurling stones and riot police firing tear gas grenades, leaving one protestor and one policeman dead, according to the interior ministry.
"Two people, including a policeman, died as a result of a demonstration organised by the opposition to denounce the legitimate ruling regime and demand the postponement of elections set for April 8," a statement said.
The demonstrator died when he was hit by a police vehicle.
An earlier interior ministry statement accused opposition demonstrators of committing "violent acts and acts of vandalism" on Friday.
"At 6:30 pm (1530 GMT), beyond the authorised timeframe for the demonstration... participants attacked the security forces who then attempted to disperse them," it said.
"Members of the national police were forced to resort to tear gas grenades to protect themselves from a violent and over-excited crowd," the statement added.
It also said groups of demonstrators torched several vehicles and damaged several police stations.
"They had premeditated their attacks by taking bottles of kerosene with them," the interior ministry said.
Sporadic clashes also took place on Saturday morning in the impoverished Balbala neighbourhood.
According to the state prosecutor two of the opposition leaders were arrested after driving through police checkpoints in their vehicles to free the third leader, who had been deatined earlier over the protest.
Souleiman said he was "outraged by the attitude and inconsequence of such politicians who claim to be leading legal parties yet dare to attack a police station."
The rare demonstration in Djibouti was organised amid mounting opposition to the 63-year-old president, whose bid to clinch a third six-year term in office triggered an outcry among opposition parties.
It came as protests against incumbent regimes rage across Arab countries of the Middle East and northern Africa.
Djibouti, a former French territory and a member of the Arab League, has borders with Somalia's breakaway state of Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Djibouti hosts a French military base as well as the only US military base on the continent, making it a cornerstone of Western powers' anti-terror operations in the region.
Many of the naval vessels tasked with combating Somali piracy in the region also use the country's port to dock.