MORONI (Reuters) - Comoros authorities have cut off water and power supplies in the capital city of Anjouan province as part of efforts to quell unrest against constitutional changes to extend presidential term limits, residents said on Thursday.
Anjouan has been rattled by clashes pitting soldiers against protesters angry at President Azali Assoumani’s plans to end a rotating tenure in his post in a way critics say could leave the small island permanently excluded from power in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.
On Wednesday, government officials said soldiers shot dead two people and wounded four after violence broke out in the Anjouan capital Mutsumudu between masked men and the military.
“They have cut water and electricity. (But) the hooded protesters are not the ones suffering, it is the population which have been taken like hostages,” a resident of Mutsumudu told Reuters.
“If this continues, we risk starving to death. We are praying that it ends quickly,” added the woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Officials at the Interior Ministry could not be reached for comment on the reported power and water outages.
Another witness - a university student - said Mutsumudu was shelled by the military throughout Wednesday.
“Since yesterday evening, Mutsamudu has had no respite. There was an exchange of fire - they even shelled the city,” the student said, adding that his pregnant sister had to walk for hours to reach hospital due to the violence.
Interior Minister Mohamed Daoud blamed what he called “insurgents” for the violence: “We do not wish for this to happen and we will do all we can to stop further damage.”
In August, Assoumani - who is from the largest island, Grande Comore - said a June referendum had approved the extension of presidential term limits and an end to the rotating presidency. The opposition called the referendum illegal.
Assoumani plans to compete in presidential polls in early 2019. That would deny Anjouan its turn to occupy the presidency from 2021, as would have happened under the previous system that rotated the post among the country’s three main islands.
Assoumani, a former military officer, joins a string of African leaders who have extended presidential term limits or amended the constitution in order to stay in office.
He has been in power since 2016 and would have had to step down in 2021 under the old term limits.
Speaking at a ceremony in the national capital Moroni, Assoumani warned protesters against further action. “Nobody must try to play with the security, peace and stability of this country because I will not tolerate (this),” he said.
Writing by Aaron Maasho; Editing by Mark Heinrich