Feb. 19 (Bloomberg) -- Djibouti opposition groups were scheduled to meet today to decide what steps to take next after police allegedly fired on demonstrators yesterday, injuring at least two of them, an opposition leader said.
“The situation is very bad,” Ismail Guedi Hared, president of the Union for a Democratic Alternative, said by phone late yesterday. The police “used tear gas and they shot in every direction. I know two people are in hospital.”
One policeman was killed and a second one is in a coma after being stoned by protesters, according to Djibouti24, a Djibouti-based website.
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, the Horn of Africa nation that hosts the only U.S. military base on the continent, President Ismail Guelleh’s People’s Rally for Progress party has ruled since independence in 1977. The 63-year-old leader, who was first elected in 1999, amended the constitution in March to allow him to extend his rule by two more six-year terms.
Yesterday’s protest turned violent near the Hassan Guled stadium in the capital, Djibouti, Hared said. Live ammunition was used by both sides and a crowd of about 100 demonstrators threw stones at the police after leaders of the protest were escorted away, Djibouti24 said.
“The police are confronting demonstrators,” Mohamed Daoud Chehem, head of the Djibouti Party for Development, said by phone from the protest yesterday. “They have opened fire,” he said, without being able to specify if anyone was injured or what type of ammunition was used.
Several calls today and yesterday to Ali Boumede, a spokesman for the president, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssuf, the president’s office and president’s residence were either not answered, didn’t connect or Bloomberg was told the officials weren’t available.
Chehem said that as many as 20,000 people had joined the protest against Guelleh. The country has a population of about 860,000. Exiled Djiboutian opposition leader Abdourahman Boreh, who is currently in London, said the demonstrations may continue.
“We will see how it goes,” Boreh said yesterday. “We will see how the government reacts.”
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 in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index, which measures life expectancy, education and living standards.
“We’re closely monitoring, keeping an eye on developments, especially as they relate to any forces we may have in the region,” Pentagon spokesman, Marine Corps Colonel David Lapin, told reporters yesterday.
The U.S has had a base in Djibouti since 2001, while former colonial power France also has a military based and 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.
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