7 people killed in Djibouti clashes
Published on: December 23, 2015 08:26 (EAT)
Seven people were killed in Djibouti after a religious celebration erupted into a violent clash with police, the foreign minister said on Tuesday, disputing an account by an opposition group that at least 19 people had died. Djibouti, home to a regional port as well as U.S. and French military bases, has faced sporadic violence before, usually sparked by protests against the government of President Ismail Omar Guelleh, whose party has a tight hold on power. The incident began early on Monday, as police attempted to control a crowd that had rapidly swelled from an expected 150 people to more than 1,000, Djiboutian Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssouf told Reuters in a telephone interview. “It was supposed to be a peaceful gathering. Unfortunately, there were elements in the gathering that prepared themselves for aggressive, violent actions,” said Youssouf, adding that some in the crowd attacked police with machetes and guns. The dead included six men and one girl, aged 13 or 14, he said. He said prosecutors were investigating the incident, including the possibility the crowd included members of Somalia’s Islamist rebel group al Shabaab, and would issue a report within a few days. The tiny Horn of Africa state contributes troops to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and sees itself as “one of their top targets,” he said. But Kadar Abdi Ibraim, spokesman for the opposition coalition Union pour le Salut National, told Reuters the police attacked people marking a religious celebration, and then attacked a house where opponents were meeting. At least 19 were killed and dozens wounded in the violence, he said. It was not immediately possible to secure independent witness reports, and the rival accounts made it difficult to determine what was precisely the number of casualties from the clashes in the country, which has a population of about 876,000. Guelleh has been in power since 1999 and has said he will seek a new term in presidential elections which are scheduled for next April. In parliamentary polls in 2013, protesters clashed with police saying the results were rigged, a charge the government denied. In 2011, anti-government demonstrators, who were buoyed by the revolutions then sweeping North Africa, demanded Guelleh step down. The authorities cracked down hard on the opposition. Djibouti hosts the only U.S. military base in Africa, as well as a French base. The former French colony’s port has been used by foreign navies patrolling the Gulf of Aden’s shipping lanes, some of the busiest in the world.