Djibouti detains opposition leaders after demo
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Last Updated: Sunday, February 20, 2011, 00:26
Djibouti: The authorities in Djibouti on Saturday detained three top opposition leaders a day after an unprecedented protest to demand regime change erupted into violence that left two dead.

The arrests came after thousands of youths descended into the streets for an Egypt-style protest aimed at ousting President Ismael Omar Guelleh, who amended the constitution last year to seek another term in April 8 elections.

The three are National Democratic Party chairman Aden Robleh Awaleh, Djibouti Democratic Party chairman Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Ismail Guedi Hared, whose Union for Democratic Change organised yesterday's demonstration.

They "were detained Saturday in connection with the violent clashes that erupted Friday evening between the demonstrators and security forces," Djibouti state prosecutor Djama Souleiman told reporters.

Friday's protest was unprecedented in the tiny Horn of Africa country, a key regional ally of the West which sits directly across the strategic Bab al Mandab strait from Yemen, where similar protests have been raging for a week.

The demonstration had started peacefully but droves of young opposition supporters -- several thousand according to the organisers -- dug in at the entrance of Djibouti's main stadium for the long haul.

Clashes then broke out between demonstrators hurling stones and riot police firing tear gas grenades, leaving one protestor and one policeman dead, according to the interior ministry.

"Two people, including a policeman, died as a result of a demonstration organised by the opposition to denounce the legitimate ruling regime and demand the postponement of elections set for April 8," a statement said.

The demonstrator died when he was hit by a police vehicle.

An earlier interior ministry statement accused opposition demonstrators of committing "violent acts and acts of vandalism" yesterday.

"At 6:30 pm (2000 IST), beyond the authorised timeframe for the demonstration... participants attacked the security forces who then attempted to disperse them," it said.

"Members of the national police were forced to resort to tear gas grenades to protect themselves from a violent and over-excited crowd," the statement added.

It also said groups of demonstrators torched several vehicles and damaged several police stations.

"They had premeditated their attacks by taking bottles of kerosene with them," the interior ministry said.


First Published: Sunday, February 20, 2011, 00:26

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