US orders staffers out of Comoros amid vote-related unrest


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The United States ordered its personnel to depart the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros on Thursday amid “gunfire, political unrest, and infrastructure disruptions” over a disputed presidential election.

The electoral commission earlier this week declared that President Azali Assoumani had been re-elected easily with more than 60 percent of the vote, but the opposition has asserted multiple irregularities. It marked the latest political turbulence in the coup-prone archipelago of less than 1 million people.

In a declaration posted on social media, opposition candidate Soilihi Mohamed said a National Transition Council had been formed with him in charge. The council is meant to “solve the electoral crisis” and keep the country peaceful and stable, he said.

“The democracy in our country was trampled … by people without conscience,” said Mohamed, who placed fourth in the official results with less than 4 percent of the vote. “We need to stand up and show the world that this country belongs to its people.”

His brief statement called on people across Comoros to peacefully “organize the resistance” and said that if the vote is not invalidated by April 3 widespread civil disobedience and the cessation of “all economic activity” would follow.

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Mohamed asserted that security forces moved some polling stations, some polling stations were closed ahead of schedule and that opposition representatives were absent during vote compilation.

Election observers from the African Union and elsewhere in a joint statement this week noted tensions and “profound divisions” among political actors dating back to last year, when a disputed referendum allowed the president to run for another term.

Some polling stations opened late, some candidates’ agents had trouble obtaining accreditation on election day and in certain cases polling stations were the target of violence, the joint statement said.

Vote compilation was interrupted in several centers amid a “climate of insecurity,” it added.

The country’s interior minister earlier this week said calm had prevailed during the vote, according to the La Gazette de Comores newspaper.

Thirteen candidates ran for president. The electoral commission said turnout was more than 53 percent.


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