Post-election violence in the Comoros turned deadly on Thursday as the first gunshot victims arrived in hospital and troops battled stone-throwing protesters in the streets of the capital.

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The head of the emergency room at the El Maarouf hospital in the Comoros capital Moroni told reporters that six wounded people had been admitted and that one 21-year-old had died, “very probably by gunshot”. 

One of the wounded was in critical condition, Dr Djabir Ibrahim said.

Reports of the first serious casualties emerged two days after the electoral authorities announced President Azali Assoumani’s disputed re-election, triggering cat-and-mouse street battles between soldiers and angry opposition supporters.

Braving teargas and torrential rain, a man in his twenties, his face hidden by a surgical mask, told AFP on Thursday why violence has erupted once again on this Indian Ocean island chain.

Tear gas

“We’ve been fighting for more than 24 hours because we don’t agree with the election results. That’s why we burned down government buildings,” he said, after dodging a new salvo of gas.

The youths have tried to block roads and streets in the capital Moroni, throwing stones at security forces, which in turn respond by driving them back to scatter and escape through alleys.  

An overnight curfew has been installed, but even after the sun rose on Thursday shops and markets remained closed and the city of 100,000 was deserted aside from the street fighters.

The Comoros opposition has rejected the re-election Assoumani, a former military ruler, alleging large-scale fraud, and demanded this week’s vote be annulled.

But the defeated challengers deny that they are behind the street protests, as alleged by the president’s camp, dubbing them a spontaneous uprising against autocratic rule.

“This is not an organised protest but we are in solidarity with the spontaneous movement,” Daoudou Abdallah Mohamed, defeated opposition candidate for the Orange party, told AFP. 

“We salute the courage of these young people. There is a freedom to protest.”

Assoumani’s victory is expected to be confirmed by the Comoros’ supreme court at the weekend, after the electoral commission declared he had won more than 60 percent in the first round vote.

But the opposition has cried foul, pointing out that the unexpectedly low 16 percent turnout figure in the presidential vote falls far short of the figure for parallel governor polls.

Burned buildings

If the official tally is to be believed, 189,497 Comorans voted to choose governors for each of the three islands in the archipelago, but only 55,258 cast a vote for president.

Assoumani, a former military chief of staff turned civilian ruler, has dismissed the concerns, and the interior ministry has declared a nightly curfew to curtail the spreading unrest.

On Wednesday, buildings were vandalised, looted and burned – including the home of a minister, a state-run business and a major rice warehouse. 

Internet services have been severely disrupted since Wednesday, and some sites are inaccessible.

Street protests are banned in the Comoros, a country that has seen more than 20 coups and attempted coups in its short period post independence in 1975, and several arrests have been made.

But the young demonstrators are not deterred, and they are organising themselves.

“This is the way we’ll escape, we need to keep this route clear,” suggested one young man, as a group prepared their latest hit-and-run from high ground in the capital. 

Assoumani, a 65-year-old former coup leader, has seen many of his opponents jailed or exiled as he extends his increasingly autocratic grip over the country.

In 2018, he pushed through a constitutional reform allowing him to centralise powers and his new victory should allow him to return for a third consecutive term and remain in power until 2029. 

The Comoros are among the poorest countries, with 45 percent of a population of 870,000 living below the poverty line and many migrants attempting to cross to the French island of Mayotte.

(AFP)

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