Wed, 22 May 2019

Violence eases on troubled Comoros island

20 Oct 2018, 23:37 GMT+10

Violence on the troubled Comoran island of Anjouan subsided on Friday after four days of deadly clashes between government forces and rebels opposed to President Azali Assoumani.

The government sent in reinforcements to quell the unrest, which follows months of tension over Assoumani's attempts to extend term limits through planned constitutional changes that could see him rule for 11 more years.

Assoumani won a referendum in July allowing him to scrap the rotation of the presidency between Comoros' three main islands after one term, disadvantaging opposition-leaning Anjouan which was next in line.

Anjouan's main city Mutsamudu, which was at the centre of the clashes, began to return to normal on Friday with water supplies that had been abruptly cut during the violence, flowing again.

Soldiers manned checkpoints and watched the trickle of residents who ventured out for Friday prayers on the majority-Muslim island.

"(Assoumani) has done nothing in his three years in power, no jobs for young people, nothing. If they don't want to understand our challenges then we will turn against them. It was us who voted for them after all," said a middle-aged man who carried a can of water as he made his way along a dusty street in Mutsamudu.

The old medina quarter in the city, with its narrow, intersecting alleyways, was the epicentre of the fighting. Security forces surrounded the rebel stronghold and many civilians fled the area.

One source told AFP by phone that troops only permitted women and children under 14 to leave the medina. Another resident said they feared reprisals by security forces if they returned to their home in the flashpoint district.

At the height of the clashes which featured automatic gunfire, witnesses described water and power cuts in the medina and some surrounding areas.

"How can you deny people water for three days? What did they do to deserve such punishment?" said a teacher from the island, now working on the nearby French island of Mayotte.

She added that she was sure it was the political situation that "forced people to take up arms".

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