afrol News, 17 June - The newly elected President of the Comoro Union, Azali Assoumani, has taken control of strategic sites on the archipelago's main island, Grande Comore in what seems to be a power struggle with the President of the autonomous island. Meanwhile, 13 Spaniards are held hostage on the Moroni airport as their plane is not allowed to depart.
Over the weekend, President Assoumani has ordered the military occupation of strategic buildings in the Comoro capital Moroni and in Grande Comore. This includes the Moroni Airport, several ministries, customs headquarters and the Moroni port. No official explanation has been given for this military activity and national broadcasters have allegedly been ordered not to report on the matter.
While reports from Moroni indicate tranquillity and that people go on with their everyday-businesses, the local government of the autonomous island is feeling threatened by the Union President's moves.
Grande Comore, like the other two main islands of the Comoro archipelago, gained its autonomy only this year as the loose Comoro Union was established. While former military strongman won the Union's rigged presidential elections, opposition leader Abdou Soulé El'bak won the free presidential 19 May poll in Grande Comore - in strong opposition to Colonel Assoumani.
Over the last month, Assoumani has been reported trying to diminish El'bak's powers. El'bak last week answered this by replacing pro-Assoumani members of the Grande Comore government. Assoumani's occupation of key Moroni sites is interpreted as a further escalation of this power struggle. El'bak was however quoted by the French news agency AFP as saying his government was still united and "would not respond to provocation."
Meanwhile, the military occupation of the Moroni airport is producing international complications. An airbus of the Spanish company Air Plus Comet has been detained at the airport over the weekend, causing protests from Spain and France, the latter representing EU interests in Comoros.
The Spanish plane and its crew - four pilots, eight stewards and one mechanic - is not getting permission to leave by the Comoro military in control of the airport. The Belgian commander of the Airbus, Stephan Dewêvre, yesterday claimed all papers and permissions were in place to take the plane back to Marseilles and totally rejected Comoro claims the plane had "violated Comoro airspace".
The Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs however has assured "there are no reasons to fear for the security" of the plane's crew. Through the French Embassy in Moroni and the air company, Spain had been informed that the 13 crew members were free to move around in Moroni while their case was looked at.
Sources: Based on Spanish govt, press reports and afrol archives