The United States has condemned recent acts of violence in the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti and called for the immediate release of opposition leaders who have been detained.
Opposition activists in Djibouti said as many as 19 people were killed on Monday in the capital, when security forces opened fire on a religious gathering. A reporter for VOA in Djibouti said more than 10 people were wounded in addition to those killed.
In a statement released late Wednesday, the U.S. State Department urged Djibouti's government to respect the rights of its citizens to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly and association. It called on the government to engage in dialogue to prevent further violence and resume talks to ensure peaceful and transparent presidential elections in 2016.
The government of Djibouti says security forces opened fire after being attacked by an armed group of people.
In a statement Monday, Minister of the Interior Hassan Omar Mohamed said, "Dozens of armed individuals came together before launching an offensive against the security forces." The statement said nine security personnel were wounded, including an officer, but it did not mention any deaths resulting from the clash.
The minister said the violence was an “act intended to destabilize our nation" and was "orchestrated by malicious individuals receiving instructions from sponsors who act from abroad."
Mohamed's statement said several suspects had been arrested in connection with Monday's incident.
Deputy opposition leader Omar Elmi Khayre told VOA's Somali Service that civilians were celebrating at the religious event when police and gendarmes attacked the crowd. He said some of those targeted were opposition supporters.
Police chief Abdullahi Abdi confirmed the raid to VOA, saying the police were hunting those responsible for the earlier violence.
Djibouti, a small country on the east coast of Africa, has been dominated by the People's Rally for Progress party since the late 1970s. The party now rules the country as part of the Union for Presidential Majority coalition.