Officials in Comoros confirm at least three people died Thursday and many more were injured as violence continued to escalate following the disputed re-election of President Azali Assoumani on Sunday.
The shooting deaths were linked to an operation to release military commander Faissoil Abdousalam from a Moroni prison, where he has been held since a December conviction for undermining state security. Abdousalam is one of a number of opposition political leaders, or related family members and associates, who have been detained by Assoumani since last summer.
Now among them is losing opposition candidate Soilihi Mohamed, head of a 12-member opposition council formed against Assoumani. He was arrested Thursday prior to the prison incident, according to local media reports, after again declaring the election outcome fraudulent and calling for civil disobedience from people in the Indian Ocean island nation.
Clashes between the military stationed at nearby Kandaani military camp, and armed actors involved in Abdousalam’s release, led to the fatalities. Radio France Internationale reported that the armed group was made up of military members, but there were conflicting reports about the identities of those who helped Abdousalam to escape. The incident followed Mohamed’s appeal for help from the military.
Assoumani was declared winner of the election on Tuesday with 61 percent of the vote, but those results are widely viewed as suspect. Political violence in Comoros has escalated since a July 2018 constitutional referendum to allow Assoumani to extend his term passed by an equally suspect 93 percent.
Local media outlets say the situation remains tense in Moroni, where the already-existing fears of a violent outbreak mean that people have left the streets and headed for safety.
“The Union of the Comoros is experiencing gunfire, political unrest, and infrastructure disruptions,” said the United States embassy. “U.S. government personnel have been ordered to depart the country.”
Image: Azali Assoumani file