Former first president of Djibouti in history books

DJIBOUTI - Former president Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who led this tiny African country for more than 20 years as its first president after independence from France, has died. He is believed to have been 90-years-old.

DJIBOUTI - Former president Hassan Gouled Aptidon, who led this tiny African country for more than 20 years as its first president after independence from France, has died. He is believed to have been 90-years-old.

Gouled died last Tuesday at his home in the capital, also called Djibouti, after a long illness, said state media.

French President Jacques Chirac said in a statement addressed to the Djibouti government yesterday: "I take note of the extent to which your country has been affected by the death of this statesman, who will remain an important figure in the history of the Horn of Africa, who was respected for his wisdom and vision, and who was always France's friend."

Gouled installed an authoritarian one-party state dominated by his own Issa clan when he took power in 1977, but resentment from the Afar group erupted into a civil war in the early 1990s.

Under pressure from France, Gouled introduced a limited multiparty system in 1992 and a power-sharing deal was struck two years later.

Gouled stepped down in 1999, paving the way for his nephew, Ismail Omar Guelleh, to succeed him. Guelleh was elected in the country's first multiparty presidential elections that year and was re-elected last year.

A tiny country of about 705 000 people at the strategic point where the Red Sea opens into the Indian Ocean, the Repub-lic of Djibouti has close ties to the West and hosts a brigade from the French Foreign Legion and a US counter- terrorism force.

With almost no natural resources, the country depends on support from France and revenue generated by its port on the Gulf of Aden. - Sapa-AP

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