BOSTON — The Djibouti opposition party Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD) has today issued a press release from their Brussels office in which they condemned the violent crack down of peaceful protesters by President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

A statement received by Somalilandpress in the French language said:
“After decades of opposition struggle, civil war, party formations and opposition mergers, the people of Djibouti have resolutely stood up to regain their freedom and dignity. Admittedly, Djiboutians did not wait for the revolutionary wind blowing across the Arab world. Extra electoral mobilization has grown from strength to strength in recent years but no doubt Djiboutians have managed to nurture popular victories against dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and the battles that continue to spread.

“Thus, Friday, February 18, 2011; a nation-wide mobilization called by the UAD (MRD, ARD and UDJ) party and supported by the NDP and DP as well as all other democratic and social forces began as planned against the dictatorship rule in Djibouti.”

The statement adds the protests led by the main opposition Union for a Democratic Alternative (UAD), civil society movements and unofficial unions attracted 40,000 people in the capital, a city with a population of 60,000.

“The demonstration was spectacular in Djibouti city, the capital, where more than 40,000 people gathered for 14 hours before the central headquarters of the parties composing the UAD. The Djiboutian population came for a peaceful protest– demanding the departure of dictator Guelleh and his regime.”

The Union for a Democratic Alternative also known as Union for Democratic Mix (UAD) is an umbrella group that comprises of three political parties: Movement for Democratic Renewal and Development (MRD), Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ) and Republican Alliance for Development (ARD).

The MRD statement signed by chairman Daher Ahmed Farah continues: “They marched through the long stretched open level ground of the National Soccer Stadium located less than a mile away from the Presidential Palace. The regime panicked and threw his most repressive apparatus against them. Around 6pm, at the time of the penultimate day of prayer, the dictator Guelleh launched his policemen, gendarmes (police officers), soldiers of the Republican Guard as well as army units against the demonstrators.

Daher Ahmed Farah

“He even used the five hundred trained Somali police officers in Djibouti on behalf of the National Transitional Government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed. He also sent a band of thugs in his payroll to sack, burn and cause trouble, trying to discredit the protesters and give themselves a pretext for repression. The repressive forces have used tear gas, batons but also live ammunition. They shot at least three dead, more than a hundred injured, some in serious condition, and dozens were arrested. The detainees were crammed into squalid cells of the police, gendarmerie and elsewhere. Police, gendarmerie, the center’s administrative detention Nagad and other prisons were filled with detained demonstrators.

“Despite the wave of repressions the demonstrations continued. In the evening of Friday, February 18, 2011, protesters have continued to return to the plaza. And when the forces of repression were again dispersed, they continued to protest in the neighborhoods of the capital, Balbala and in other areas (Areas 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 7a, Ambouli, etc..).

“The next day (Saturday, February 19, 2011) protesters took over the movement in the morning and continued to rally against the dictatorship until late in the evening.

“Panicking even more, the dictator Guelleh arrested the opposition leaders. The leader of Djibouti Party for Development (DP), Mohamed Daoud Chehem, the National Democratic Party (NDP), Aden Robleh Awaleh and that of Union for Democracy and Justice (UDJ), who also chairs the UAD, Ismael Guedi Hared were detained. Under pressure from the streets and the international community, he has released all three leaders in the afternoon of Saturday, February 19, 2011.

“At the time of publishing this statement, the dictator Guelleh continues to arrest and torture with a vengeance the Democrats of Djibouti.”

Their statement said the number of pro-democracy detainees exceeds one hundred and it has listed the names of 26 protesters behind bars including two young women; Hawa Waiss and Farada Witti. They added the opposition will not be silenced by such intermediation and have already “organized legal defense for all detainees.”

The MDR committee in Brussels also sent a warning message to the Djiboutian armed forces, police, soldiers of the Republican Guard and officers known as gendarmes. “We say that by behaving this way they respect neither the law nor morals. They compromise their future and their place in society. They are liable to prosecution without complacency. They must quickly regroup and stand with the people instead of supporting this regime condemned to disappear. They have been warned.”

Djiboutians rally against Omar Guelleh in Ottawa

The movement finally called on the weak transitional government of Somalia led by the former cleric Sheikh Sharif Ahmed to remove its police from Djibouti soil.

“The transitional government and President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, we call for the immediate removal of their officers from Djibouti,” it concluded.

The Chairman of MRP, Mr Daher Ahmed Farah exited with a short messages to all Djiboutians: “The struggle continues. And victory is near.”

Djiboutians took to the streets in places such as Ottawa, Canada too where there is large Diasporas. They called for the departure of President Ismail Omar Guelleh during Saturday’s sub-zero temperature demonstration.

The opposition plans for more protests and has urged the international community who supported changes in Tunisia and Egypt not to ignore the Djibouti case.

President Guelleh, 63, has served two terms since 1999 and last year he made changes to the constitution to scrape a two-term limit. The move has came under attack from concerned critics and oppositions.

To avoid further policy plunders, it is important for the international community to support grassroot changes in places where democracy has least penetrated. The international community, in particular the United States and EU now have the opportunity to enhance their credibility by standing with the people of Djibouti rather than focusing on spots of interest such as Egypt and Libya for geopolitical reasons. Supporting changes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen while turning a blind-eye in Djibouti will only prove that the international community is not genuinely keen about democracy or change, but simply feel the use and time for those Arab leaders have expired.

In their statement, the group called for an investigation into the use of Somalia’s 500 policemen and the deadly violence. They insist the Somalli forces should be here to be trained not to intermediate the public and turn Djibouti city into another Mogadishu.

With a population of 740,000 Djibouti is important U.S. and French ally that occupies a strategic geographic location at the mouth of the Red Sea.

Somalilandpress | 22 Feb 2011