Djibouti yesterday detained three leading opposition politicians, its chief prosecutor said, in a move to quash opposition protests triggered by a wave of political unrest sweeping through the Middle East.
Earlier, anti-government demonstrators clashed for a second day with riot police who used teargas to disperse the crowds demanding the tiny Horn of Africa state’s president step down, buoyed by events in Egypt and Tunisia.
State prosecutor Djama Souleiman said Aden Robleh, Mohamed Daoud and Ismail Guedi had been placed under police custody. Military police patrolled the city’s suburbs in heavy numbers. “These men are not friends of democracy. It is they who are killing democracy,” said Souleiman.
Witnesses said yesterday’s demonstrations in Djibouti’s Balala suburb failed to match the intensity of Friday’s when at least two people were killed after security forces moved in at dusk to end an authorised demonstration in the city centre. Interior Minister Yacin Elmi Bouh said one policeman was killed in the fighting and one demonstrator died after being hit by a speeding police car. The opposition put the number of demonstrators on Friday in their thousands, in a rare outpouring of anger as opposition to President Ismail Omar Guelleh, in power since 1999, grows.
One self-exiled presidential challenger, Abdourahman Boreh, who plans to boycott April’s election if Guelleh stands, said the US was backing Djibouti’s leader for strategic reasons.
But that strategy had backfired, he said. “He (Guelleh) is ruling by the barrel of the gun. A third term would not be legitimate and the population does not want him,” he said from London. “The US must listen to the people.”
Sixty three-year old Guelleh’s People’s Rally for Progress party has ruled since independence from France in 1977. “The people don’t want this dictatorial regime,” said opposition supporter Hawa Abille. “Our freedom is in our hands.”