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Comoros Issues Arrest Warrant for Outspoken ex-VP

Prosecutors in Comoros have issued an international arrest warrant for a former vice president who opposed a series of constitutional reforms enabling President Azali Assoumani to extend his term in office.

Speaking to AFP on Monday, a judicial source confirmed a warrant was out for the arrest of Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, who served as one of the Indian Ocean archipelago's three vice presidents.

The warrant was issued as the authorities pressed a crackdown on figures who opposed July's controversial referendum, with some arrested on terror charges while others have gone into hiding, according to opposition sources.

The warrant was issued on Friday when the state security court formally charged Hassani in absentia with conspiring against the state.

But sources close to Hassani said he had left Comoros on Thursday for a trip abroad.

Police detained his wife for questioning, holding her in custody for nearly 24 hours, members of Hassani's entourage told AFP.

In a briefing note seen by AFP, the foreign ministry informed all diplomatic and consular missions that Hassani's diplomatic papers "had been cancelled".

A magistrate by profession, Hassani fell out of favour with the government in June for his open criticism of Azali's constitutional reforms, which were overwhelmingly passed during a controversial referendum in late July.

Public opposition

The reforms allow Assoumani run for another term in office and overturn a five-year rotation of power between Comoros' three main islands to ensure political balance in this coup-prone country.

FILE - Comoros' President Azali Assoumani arrives at a polling station to cast his ballot during a constitutional referendum, July 30, 2018.
FILE - Comoros' President Azali Assoumani arrives at a polling station to cast his ballot during a constitutional referendum, July 30, 2018.

They also do away with the three posts of vice-president, another measure enshrined in the 2001 constitution.

Hassani had publicly denounced the reforms as "illegal" and a threat to the country's political future, warning they risked "plunging the country into a deep political crisis".

Several weeks later, he was stripped of most of his duties.

Assoumani was elected in 2016 alongside three vice presidents, but until the referendum, he was not constitutionally permitted to dismiss them.

Following the vote, the authorities launched a crackdown on the opposition, charging at least eight of them with plotting attacks on key government figures. Others have gone into hiding.

Assoumani, who had been due to step down in 2021, is now expected to stage early elections next year to extend his time in office.

The planned referendum had sparked demonstrations and clashes across these volcanic islands which won independence from France in 1975 but have since been blighted by a string of political crises and coups.