See also:
» 26.02.2013 - Mass protests shake Djibouti
» 25.02.2013 - Djibouti vote rigging may cause new mass protests
» 11.03.2011 - Djibouti opposition boycotts election
» 04.03.2011 - Djibouti protests stopped by police
» 27.02.2011 - Mass arrests stopped further Djibouti protests
» 20.02.2011 - Djibouti opposition leaders freed
» 19.02.2011 - Djibouti protesters keep up the pressure
» 18.02.2011 - Djibouti protests more massive than expected

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Spark of rebellion reaches Djibouti

Protests in Djibouti's Avenue Nasser on 1 January, organised by the UAD opposition

© UAD/afrol News
afrol News, 9 February
- Djibouti yesterday saw its first violent unrests, organised by students, and now the opposition calls for "general protests" on 18 February against President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh's intention to seek a third term.

Students from the University of Djibouti have taken to the streets for three days now, originally to protest their grades and the small African Horn country's poor education system. But the protests have an anti-government and political undertone.

Yesterday, the student protests went violent. Daniel McCurry, a US citizen living and teaching in Djibouti reports that the student protests "have taken the form of rock throwing, destruction of property, and general mayhem. The police have responded with arrests, tear gas."

Videos published by anonymous Djiboutian students on YouTube confirm these reports. The most violent confrontations were documented at the University of Djibouti - where only two out of 180 students had passed their exams, sparking protests on Saturday. The protest first went along peacefully, but by Saturday night, protesting students began looting shops in downtown Djibouti City.

During the next days, the protests have escalated, with students from other institutions joining protesters from the university. So far, they have accumulated in the clashes with the police at the university yesterday, where only the use of teargas could disperse the prote

Student protests at Djibouti University were met with teargas

© "MrSkullDark1"/YouTube/afrol News
sters. Further manifestations are planned.

The student protests however do not come out of the blue. Already on Friday 29 January, the first display of popular discontent was made in the streets of central Djibouti City. After the Friday prayers, people seemingly spontaneously flocked in downtown Rue de Venise and started shouting anti-government slogans - obviously inspired by events in Egypt and neighbouring Yemen.

The disorganised and spontaneous manifestation was peaceful and rather small, counting about 300 participants, also including opposition representatives. Several demands were heard, including calls for political reform, for the opposition to be given a real chance in the upcoming April elections and for job opportunities and socio-economic improvements.

Socially, frustrations are great in Djibouti, where both education and job opportunities remain very limited for national citizens while large groups of educated foreigners are seen taking the most lucrative posts. Housing, social services, electricity supply and infrastructure are problems only getting graver. For many Djiboutians, daily life is only made endurable by chewing khat.

But social probl

Ismaël Guedi Hared, President of Djibouti's UAD opposition alliance, at a 22 January rally

© UAD/afrol News
ems alone would not spark a rebellion in traditionally calm Djibouti, which at all costs wants to avoid Somali conditions. The current political condition however has its potentials.

For the last two elections, the opposition has boycotted the polls, demanding a proportional representation in parliament and improved guarantees against fraud. The Union for a Democratic Change (UAD), uniting most key opposition parties, again has announced it will not file a candidate for the April elections without prior reforms.

So far, the UAD had held a low profile in the sparse protests in Djibouti. But during the week, it has changed its position. Mohammed Warsama Ragueh - a judge said to be sympathetic to the Guelleh regime - announced his participation in the presidential race as an independent candidate. A two-person race would boost President Guelleh's legitimacy after his foreseen victory.

UAD opposition leader Ismaël Guedi Hared therefore has stepped forward, throwing in his support for mass protests in Djibouti. The UAD has issued a statement, calling on "the Djiboutian people for a peaceful general demonstration" on Friday 18 February at 2 PM at Avenue Gamal Nasser in

Djiboutian President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh

© WHO/afrol News
central Djibouti City.

The protest would, according to Mr Hared, be against the third term of President Guelleh - made possible through constitutional change last year - "overpriced food", insufficient social services, corruption and impunity for the political elite.

The planned protests are a sharpening of language by the UAD, which had mobilised thousands of supporters to the streets on 1 January and 10 January rallies against the third term of President Guelleh. UAD leader Hared now is calling for an Egypt-like protest movement.

With the UAD opposition party leading the protests, Djiboutians could be motivated to participate. The demands formulated by Mr Hared are similar to the grievances held by the majority. The opposition also could have a popular majority. In the last elections the UAD participated, in 2003, it got 37 percent of the votes - in Djibouti City even 45 percent. Since then, discontent with President Guelleh has only increased.

But so far, the message of revolt has not reached the masses in Djibouti. It is still the students that lead the protest movement. 18 February will be the great test if Djiboutians are ready for political reform or not.

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