Djibouti Forces Arrest Opposition Leaders, Scuppering Protests

Djibouti’s security forces detained four opposition leaders, scuppering a planned demonstration against President Ismail Guelleh, a member of the opposition said.

“They were gathered in one place about to go out to the demonstration,” Halimo Ismael, a member of the Union for a Democratic Alternative, said today by phone from Djibouti city. “Then the police, without any papers, came and took them away.”

Those arrested included leaders of the UDA, the Djibouti Party for Development, the Union for a Democratic Movement and the Movement for Democratic Renewal, Ismael said. Calls seeking comment to the mobile phones of Interior Minister Yacin Elmi Bouh and Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Yousef weren’t answered or didn’t connect.

Violence broke out at an opposition rally around the city’s Hassan Guled stadium on Feb. 18 when security forces acted to contain “trouble-makers” who hijacked the protest, Yousef said on Feb. 21. One policeman died and nine other people were injured, he said.

Demonstrators were forced to call off an unauthorized protest last week after being prevented from gathering at the stadium. Opposition parties have vowed to hold protests each Friday until Guelleh resigns.

Opposition leaders will put themselves in a “radically illegal position” if they organize unauthorized protests, the official government newspaper, La Nation, yesterday cited Bouh as saying.

U.S. Base

The U.S. has had a military base in Djibouti since 2001, while former colonial power France has around 3,000 troops stationed in the country, which is smaller than the U.S. state of Massachusetts.

Anti-government protests in the Middle East and North Africa ousted the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia and spread to Libya and the Persian Gulf. In Djibouti, Guelleh’s People’s Rally for Progress party has ruled since independence in 1977. The 63-year-old leader, first elected in 1999, amended the constitution in March 2010 to allow him to extend his rule by two more six-year terms.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison at wdavison3@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Richardson at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

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