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26.03.2019 Africa

Comoros Awaits Results Of Divisive Poll

By Aboubacar M'CHANGAMA and Philippe ALFROY
Police take away a plainclothes policeman injured in Monday's clashes.  By GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (AFP)
MAR 26, 2019 AFRICA
Police take away a plainclothes policeman injured in Monday's clashes. By GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (AFP)

Counting of votes cast in the first round of Comoros' presidential polls continued on Tuesday as tensions mounted between re-election-seeking President Azali Assoumani and his rivals who accuse him of fraud.

Twelve people were injured on Monday when police fired teargas and rubber bullets at opposition candidates and supporters as they marched through the capital Moroni protesting alleged irregularities.

Interior Minister Mohamed "Kiki" Daoudou said that counting, underway at the National Assembly in Moroni, would be concluded later Tuesday.

"We have authorities who have gone mad and fired at the very candidates who won at the ballot box," said opposition Juwa party candidate Mahamoudou Ahamada.

Comoros President Azali Assoumani cast his vote on Sunday. By GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (AFP) Comoros President Azali Assoumani cast his vote on Sunday. By GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (AFP)

But Daoudou insisted Ahamada and his allies "want to create disorder in Moroni, there's no question of that being allowed.

"We will do everything necessary to guarantee the peace and stability of the country," he told AFP.

Heavily armed soldiers were deployed to several key locations in the capital with orders to prevent unrest.

Sixty-year-old Azali's main rivals, the Union of the Opposition, allege that irregularities at several polling stations reported by the electoral commission on Sunday amounted to a "coup d'etat" and called for public "resistance".

An electoral commission official told AFP on Sunday that a dozen booths were vandalised during polling.

'A climate of panic'

Witnesses said several stuffed ballot boxes were found on Anjouan island -- an opposition stronghold.

Some opposition poll monitors were also prevented from carrying out their duties, they added.

"The security forces have taken a stand for a government which has lost its legitimacy," said Juwa's Ahamada.

Counting started Sunday night at the National Assembly under police guard.

Official observers were also critical of the poll.

"(We) condemn the incidents witnessed which meant voters were unable to exercise their civic right in conditions of calm," said a joint statement issued by observers from the African Union, the Comesa east and southern African bloc, and the Eastern Africa Standby Force.

Map of the Comoros Islands. By Kun TIAN (AFP) Map of the Comoros Islands. By Kun TIAN (AFP)

Azali's campaign director Houmed Msaidie described opposition claims of election fraud as "pathetic", accusing them of creating "a climate of panic to invalidate the electoral process".

"If there was fraud, they should go to the appropriate authorities," he told AFP.

Some 300,000 voters were eligible to vote in the Indian Ocean archipelago, which has a two-round system for electing the president.

The mainly Muslim nation of 800,000 people is one of the world's poorest and most coup-prone states -- there have been more than 20 attempted or successful power grabs since independence from France in 1975.

The Supreme Court barred some of Azali's major rivals, including former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, accused of corruption, from running.

Azali staged the poll after Comorans voted in a referendum, boycotted by the opposition, to support the extension of presidential mandates from one five-year term to two.

The change upset a fragile balance of power established in 2001 that sought to end separatist crises on Anjouan and Moheli, and halt the endless cycle of coups.