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Djibouti police, protestors face off for second day

Clashes erupt between security forces and protesters in day 2 of an anti-regime uprising

AFP , Saturday 19 Feb 2011
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Fresh clashes broke out between opposition supporters and police in Djibouti Saturday, a day after an unprecedented anti-regime protest ended in violence, an AFP correspondent reported.

Thousands of youths in the tiny Horn of Africa nation had taken to the streets Friday to demand President Ismael Omar Guelleh, who has been in power since 1999, step down.

The demonstrators had planned to hunker down in front of the Gouled stadium in an Egypt-style protest demanding regime change but clashes broke out between protestors and riot police firing tear gas grenades.

Clashes resumed on Saturday with smaller groups of rioters hurling stones at police in the impoverished neighbourhood of Balbala, and the number of protestors gradually swelled.

The confrontation was the most intense in front of the Italian hospital, where police in full anti-riot gear were deployed.

Djibouti's interior ministry earlier Saturday accused opposition demonstrators of committing "violent acts and acts of vandalism", in a statement received by AFP.

"At 6:30 pm (1530 GMT), beyond the authorised timeframe for the demonstration... participants attacked the security forces who then attempted to disperse them," the statement said.

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

The interior ministry 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.

The statement said that the unrest lasted until at least 11:00 pm (2000 GMT).

The rare demonstration in Djibouti was organised amid mounting opposition to the 63-year-old president, who last year had the constitution amended to allow him to seek a third six-year mandate in upcoming April elections.

Djibouti, a former French territory and a member of the Arab League, sits in a strategic location commanding the strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.

It has borders with Somalia's breakaway state of Somaliland, Ethiopia and Eritrea and faces Yemen, where protests demanding long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh's ouster have left at least 10 people dead since Sunday.

Djibouti hosts a French military base as well as the only US military base on the continent, making it a cornerstone of Western powers' anti-terror operations in the region.

Many of the naval vessels tasked with combating Somali piracy in the region also use the country's port to dock.

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