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Comoros island inches back to life after uprising

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Residents on the Comoros island of Anjouan slowly returned to their daily lives Sunday after a six-day seige in the old quarter of Mutsamudu city where soldiers had fought with rebels in the narrow lanes.

The military said it had re-gained control of the medina quarter on Saturday after the latest bout of instability on the coup-prone Indian Ocean archipelago claimed at least three lives.

Anjouan's port re-opened after being closed for several days, and soldiers patrolled the streets as local people emerged from their homes.

Some expressed scepticism over whether the armed rebels, who are opposed to President Azali Assoumani, had been vanished by the military in an apparently peaceful operation on Saturday.

Supermarket owner Mohamed Adinane said he had come "to check the condition of my store, to see if there were any breakages."

"I found expired products because of the power cuts," he said, explaining he had lost a lot of money. "It's a shame but what can we do?" he added.

Military checkpoints were still in place around the medina, and most streets were deserted. Stones and teargas cannisters littered some areas after the week of clashes.

Residents, who had been cut off without power or water during the stand-off, emerged on balconies on Boulevard Mohamed Ahmed seeking updates on the security situation.

A senior officer advised people to avoid the medina's main square, saying "You never know until you are 100 percent sure that there is no risk from rebels."

One elderly man, who declined to be named, asked "how were these rebels able to melt away with their weapons and luggage when the medina was completely surrounded?"

"The government was tricked," he said before closing his door.

- President challenges term limits -

Tensions in Comoros have mounted in recent months as Assoumani bids to extend term limits through constitutional changes that could see him rule for 11 more years.

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

Map of the Comoros archipelago  showing the position of Mutsamudu  scene of days of clashes between ...
Map of the Comoros archipelago, showing the position of Mutsamudu, scene of days of clashes between rebels and security forces
Kun TIAN, AFP

The government had sent in reinforcements after about 40 rebels erected barricades in the old quarter of Mutsamudu.

The president, who came to power in a military coup and was elected in 2016, has indicated that he plans to stage polls next year which would allow him to reset his term limits and theoretically rule until 2029.

The Comoros islands -- Anjouan, Grande Comore and Moheli -- are located between Mozambique and Madagascar.

President Assoumani won a July referendum allowing him to scrap the rotation of the presidency
President Assoumani won a July referendum allowing him to scrap the rotation of the presidency
TONY KARUMBA, AFP

They have endured years of grinding poverty and political turmoil, including about 20 coups or attempted coups, since independence from France in 1975.

The last coups was in 1999 when Assoumani, then the head of the army, seized power for the first time.

He gave up power in 2006 before being elected two years ago.

The fourth Comoros island, Mayotte, remains French.

Assoumani's government accuses the opposition Juwa party of being behind the unrest on Anjouan.

Former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi who leads Juwa, is from Anjouan. He has been under house arrest since May.

Residents on the Comoros island of Anjouan slowly returned to their daily lives Sunday after a six-day seige in the old quarter of Mutsamudu city where soldiers had fought with rebels in the narrow lanes.

The military said it had re-gained control of the medina quarter on Saturday after the latest bout of instability on the coup-prone Indian Ocean archipelago claimed at least three lives.

Anjouan’s port re-opened after being closed for several days, and soldiers patrolled the streets as local people emerged from their homes.

Some expressed scepticism over whether the armed rebels, who are opposed to President Azali Assoumani, had been vanished by the military in an apparently peaceful operation on Saturday.

Supermarket owner Mohamed Adinane said he had come “to check the condition of my store, to see if there were any breakages.”

“I found expired products because of the power cuts,” he said, explaining he had lost a lot of money. “It’s a shame but what can we do?” he added.

Military checkpoints were still in place around the medina, and most streets were deserted. Stones and teargas cannisters littered some areas after the week of clashes.

Residents, who had been cut off without power or water during the stand-off, emerged on balconies on Boulevard Mohamed Ahmed seeking updates on the security situation.

A senior officer advised people to avoid the medina’s main square, saying “You never know until you are 100 percent sure that there is no risk from rebels.”

One elderly man, who declined to be named, asked “how were these rebels able to melt away with their weapons and luggage when the medina was completely surrounded?”

“The government was tricked,” he said before closing his door.

– President challenges term limits –

Tensions in Comoros have mounted in recent months as Assoumani bids to extend term limits through constitutional changes that could see him rule for 11 more years.

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

Map of the Comoros archipelago  showing the position of Mutsamudu  scene of days of clashes between ...

Map of the Comoros archipelago, showing the position of Mutsamudu, scene of days of clashes between rebels and security forces
Kun TIAN, AFP

The government had sent in reinforcements after about 40 rebels erected barricades in the old quarter of Mutsamudu.

The president, who came to power in a military coup and was elected in 2016, has indicated that he plans to stage polls next year which would allow him to reset his term limits and theoretically rule until 2029.

The Comoros islands — Anjouan, Grande Comore and Moheli — are located between Mozambique and Madagascar.

President Assoumani won a July referendum allowing him to scrap the rotation of the presidency

President Assoumani won a July referendum allowing him to scrap the rotation of the presidency
TONY KARUMBA, AFP

They have endured years of grinding poverty and political turmoil, including about 20 coups or attempted coups, since independence from France in 1975.

The last coups was in 1999 when Assoumani, then the head of the army, seized power for the first time.

He gave up power in 2006 before being elected two years ago.

The fourth Comoros island, Mayotte, remains French.

Assoumani’s government accuses the opposition Juwa party of being behind the unrest on Anjouan.

Former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi who leads Juwa, is from Anjouan. He has been under house arrest since May.

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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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