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By Katrina Manson in Nairobi
Published: March 15 2011 16:37 | Last updated: March 15 2011 16:37
Mahmoud Ali Youssouf, foreign minister, told the Financial Times the group had failed to maintain neutrality and that the country was seeking to avert scenes of “chaos and upheaval” similar to those across the Middle East and north Africa.
The tiny port state, ruled by the same party since independence in 1977, has faced a series of opposition rallies in past weeks as many have sought to imitate a wave of democratic fervour that has swept north Africa. At least one person was killed during protests in which police lobbed teargas at rock-throwing demonstrators on February 18.
Mr Ali Youssouf said the US group had several times exhibited “very very concerning behaviour”, offering food and water to demonstrators, carrying participants in their cars. On March 2, Djiboutian authorities declared the US group, Democracy International, “illegal”.
Glenn Cowan, co-founder of Democracy International, whose $2.2m two-year programme is funded by USAID, the US donor agency, said the accusations were “preposterous”. The group nevertheless said it was complying with the order to cease operations.
Mr Ali Youssouf said several other observation groups, including the African Union, the Arab League and the European Union had been issued invitations to observe the elections. He said USAID could nominate a new observer group to replace DI.
However, it is unlikely a new group could set up in time for the elections. Campaigning is due to start on March 24, ahead of polls due on April 8.
The US, which has more than 2,200 troops stationed in Djibouti, its only military camp on the continent, is the third largest employer in the country. Last year it doubled aid to the country, which borders Somalia, a failed state of 20 years’ standing.
President Ismail Omar Guelleh last year altered the constitution to allow him to stand for a third term, provoking the ire of opposition groups which last week declared they were jointly boycotting next month’s elections. Mr Ali Youssouf said the constitution contained legal provisions permitting the change and that the boycott was disappointing.
“Peace here is really essential, when we see what is going on around us – Somalis, Yemen – all those countries are all burning,” said Mr Ali Youssouf. “They [the opposition] are saying the only way to get rid of President Guelleh is to create a kind of chaos and upheaval in society, because of what they are watching on TV in Bahrain.”
He said if the people did not want the constitutional amendment they could vote against the president.
“It’s for the people to decide. We are not living in Washington or Paris or London – we are our own country with our system. If there are people who are not happy with that abroad that is their concern,” he said.
Opposition leaders, some of whom have been arrested and released several times, have said they fear polls would be rigged.
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