Gunfire in Comoros as govt tightens crackdown

Comoros' President Azali Assoumani.
Comoros' President Azali Assoumani.
Image: TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP

Comoros security forces intensified their crackdown against anti-government rebels on the island of Anjouan on Thursday, with witnesses reporting heavy gunfire on the fourth day of clashes.

Tensions in the Indian Ocean archipelago have been fanned in recent months by President Azali Assoumani's bid to extend term limits via planned constitutional changes that could see him rule for 11 more years.

Assoumani won a referendum in July which allows him to push through reforms that include scrapping a rotation of the presidency between the country's three main islands after one term.

Anjouan island, which had been due to take up the next presidency, is a stronghold of the opposition Juwa party that has accused Assoumani of becoming a dictator.

"We heard big explosions last night and also a lot of shooting this morning," French ex-patriate Anais Greusard told AFP, speaking from Anjouan.

"The difficulties seem to be concentrated in the centre" of Mutsamudu, the main city, she said, with some people fleeing their homes in the most dangerous streets.

Traffic outside the city centre was moving normally and the island's airport appeared to be open, witnesses said.

Another resident living close to Mutsamudu said gunfire had continued into the morning in its most intensive phase since the clashes began.

Interior Minister Mohamed Daoudou had on Wednesday said the situation had returned to normal in Anjouan after three people were killed in the violence.

He blamed "terrorists, as well as drug addicts and alcoholics" for the unrest.

A night-time curfew remained in place on the island.

Assoumani, who came to power in a military coup and was elected in 2016, has indicated that he plans to stage polls next year which would allow him to reset his term limits and theoretically rule until 2029.

Set between Mozambique and Madagascar, the three Comoros islands of Anjouan, Grande Comore and Moheli have endured years of dire poverty and political turmoil, including a spate of coups, since independence from France in 1975.

A fourth island, Mayotte, remains French territory.

The United Nations and African Union called on Wednesday for stalled talks to urgently re-start between rival parties.

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