“The police are confronting demonstrators,” Mohamed Daoud Chehem, head of the Djibouti Party for Development, said by phone from the protest in the capital, Djibouti. “They have opened fire,” he said, without being able to specify if anyone was injured or what type of ammunition was used.
Chehem earlier said that as many as 20,000 people had joined the protest against President Ismail Guelleh, and that he expected numbers to swell to 50,000.
Anti-government protests across North Africa since January ousted the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia, while similar demonstrations have occurred in Algeria and Libya. In Djibouti, Guelleh’s People’s Rally for Progress party has ruled the country since independence in 1977. The 63-year-old leader, who was elected in 1999, amended the constitution in March to allow him to extend his rule by two more six-year terms.
Exiled Djiboutian opposition leader Abdourahman Boreh, who is currently in London, put the number of protesters today at as many as 5,000. The demonstration may extend beyond today, he said in a phone interview.
“We will see how it goes,” Boreh said. “This is the first day. We will see how the government reacts.”
The U.S has had a base in Djibouti since 2001, while former colonial power France also has 3,000 troops stationed in the country, which is smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts. The republic borders the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden and is seen as a strategic location in the U.S.-led fight against terrorism and piracy.
Last month, Boreh called for elections scheduled for April to be delayed by as much as a year and for international monitors to oversee an electoral roll that includes 130,000 to 140,000 of the population of about 865,000.
Djibouti ranks 148th out of 169 countries ranked in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index, which measures life expectancy, education and living standards.
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