Protesters, soldiers clash in Comoros over presidential term extension

MORONI (Reuters) - Protesters barricaded roads with tree trunks, stoned cars and clashed with soldiers in the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros on Monday in demonstrations against President Azali Assoumani’s bid to extend term limits, officials said.

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Assoumani’s move to compete in presidential polls in early 2019 has angered people on the archipelago’s Anjouan island as it would deny them taking over the presidency under a system that rotates the post among the country’s three main islands.

“These protests are a result of a general sentiment of being fed up with the unfortunate decisions made by President Azali,” said Mohamed Sadate Nadjib, a government official in Anjouan, adding 13 people had been arrested.

“There is a presence of soldiers on the streets and they are trying to remove the barricades but the people are blocking the streets again as soon as they leave,” he told Reuters by phone.

President Assoumani a former military officer, joins a string of African leaders in countries such as Rwanda, Uganda and Cameroon who have extended presidential term limits or amended the constitution in order to remain in power.

In August, Assoumani - from the island of Grande Comore - said a June referendum had resulted in the extension of presidential term limits and an end to the rotating presidency. The opposition called the referendum illegal.

Under the old system, the island of Anjouan would have been in line to hold the presidency in 2021.

The “yes” vote allows Assoumani to run for two more, five-year terms, starting from the early election next year, rather than being required to step down when his present term ends in 2021.

Security officials said Anjouan’s Mutsamudu and Ouani ports remained open despite the unrest, but that the movement of soldiers was being prevented by the barricades.

Last month, prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for former vice president Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani - who had openly opposed the plebiscite - on charges of plotting against the state.

Writing by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Robin Pomeroy