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Djibouti Bans U.S.-Backed Advocacy Group One Month Before Vote

March 15 (Bloomberg) -- Djibouti’s government ordered a U.S.-backed democracy-advocacy group to leave the country, less than a month before the country holds a presidential election.

Democracy International, based in Bethesda, Maryland, had attempted to resolve problems with President Ismael Guelleh’s administration that began after opposition protests started in the country last month, Chris Hennemeyer, head of the group’s electoral-observation mission, said in an e-mailed statement.

“Unfortunately my earlier optimism proved to be unfounded,” Hennemeyer said. “The Djiboutian government has confirmed its order that DI cease all activities and we are complying with their directive.”

Government spokesman Moussa Mohamed Omar said he didn’t have any information on the issue when contacted by phone in Djibouti City today. Calls to Interior Minister Yacin Elmi Bouh, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Yousef and Communications Minister Ali Abdi Farah weren’t answered.

Djibouti is scheduled to hold a presidential election on April 8. The Horn of Africa nation has been ruled by Guelleh’s People’s Rally for Progress party since independence in 1977. Guelleh, first elected in 1999, amended the constitution in March 2010 to allow him to extend his rule by two more six-year terms.

Opposition parties staged a protest on Feb. 18 demanding the 63-year-old leader’s resignation. Subsequent demonstrations have been blocked by security forces. The opposition Union for a Democratic Alternative and Union for a Democratic Movement plan to boycott the vote, saying conditions for a fair election don’t exist. They have vowed to protest every Friday until Guelleh resigns.

Military Base

DI began its two-year, $2.2 million U.S. Agency for International Development-funded program in July, according to the group’s chief of party, Kit Spence. It ran the only program of its type in the nation that hosts the sole U.S. military base on the continent, he said in an e-mailed statement today.

The U.S. government may make a statement once it has full details, Omar Cardentey, public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti, said in a phone interview today.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa via Nairobi at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net.

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