afrol News, 20 February - Djibouti's government today has confirmed that it has freed the country's three main opposition leaders, arrested following this weekend's massive protests. Meanwhile, the army warns against new protests.
On Saturday, Ismaël Guedi Hared, the leader of Djibouti's main opposition coalition Union for a Democratic Alternative (UAD), was detained together with Aden Robleh Awalleh and Mohamed Daoud Chehem, leaders of the minor opposition parties PND and UJD.
State prosecutor Djama Souleiman accused the three of organising "violent clashes" during the mass protests in Djibouti City on Friday and Saturday, claiming the protest organisers "are not friends of democracy." The three opposition leaders had also refused to listen to police orders, the Prosecutor said.
According to Djibouti government media, which yesterday for the first time reported about the long-announced mass protests, the Friday event had only been an opposition rally, including around 800 persons, which had spiralled out of control and turned violent. They confirmed the death of one policeman and one protester.
Opposition and civil society sources however said that around 30,000 protesters had flocked to central Djibouti City, photo-documenting large crowds shouting anti-government slogans. According to the same sources, protesters after the fall of darkness were attacked by security forces, shooting at the crowds and forcing them to leave the city centre.
Violently chased out of the centre, a group of a few thousands of protesters were nevertheless able to keep control of the Balbala neighbourhood during the night from Friday to Saturday. Further protests on Saturday were concentrated i
Djibouti protesters re-baptised "Independence Square" to "Freedom Square"
n Balbala, as armed security forces stopped the protesters from reaching the city centre.
The organisers of the protests - including a wide range of Djiboutian human rights groups, civil society and opposition parties - today are trying to coordinate further protests against the regime. Their main demand is for Djibouti President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh to desist from an unconstitutional third term bid in the upcoming April elections.
But as the opposition and civil society groups call for continued protests, the Guelleh regime is preparing for a tough response. According to government-controlled media, national security institutions today had a meeting to discuss responses to the protest movement and to "regroup".
National Security chief Hassan Said Khaireh said that "authorities will have to take severe measures to punish those responsible for these troubles and senseless act of violence."
Mr Khaireh also stated that clear instructions had been given to security forces, including national police and the Gendarmerie "to maintain public order and ensure that security forces provide safety to all Djiboutians, whatever their political beliefs." He urged the public to cooperate and help "exposing the criminals undermining safety."
The National Security chief's statements were aired by all Djiboutian media. President Guelleh, on the other hand, has not commented the protest movement yet. No political concessions have been made by government so far.
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