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US Upgrades Travel Warning to Comoros After Post-Election Violence


A general view of a main street is seen on March 28, 2019 in Moroni, after gunfire was heard in the Comorian capital.

The U.S. State Department in Comoros is urging Americans to reconsider traveling to the Indian Ocean island nation following violence surrounding the country’s disputed presidential election.

FILE- Comoros Gendarmerie officers carry an injured policeman wearing civilian clothes as they disperse opposition supporters, in Moroni, on March 25, 2019.
FILE- Comoros Gendarmerie officers carry an injured policeman wearing civilian clothes as they disperse opposition supporters, in Moroni, on March 25, 2019.

The State Department upgraded its travel warning Friday for Americans to Level 3, meaning "Reconsider Travel," one step below the top Level 4, "Do Not Travel."

U.S. officials say U.S. personnel on the island already have been ordered to leave temporarily.

Four people died Thursday in a gunfight at a military camp in Comoros where the police had detained an opposition presidential candidate following Sunday’s disputed presidential election. VOA's Swahili service reported that at least seven people were injured.

“Comoros is experiencing civil and political unrest, including armed conflict, roadblocks and protests, following a contested election,” the State Department advisory said.

Earlier this week, Comoros’ electoral commission declared that President Azali Assoumani had been re-elected easily with more than 60 percent of the vote, but the opposition said it did not recognize the result, alleging widespread fraud. Then, opposition candidate Soilihi Mohamed declared himself the head of a transitional authority that aims to replace Assoumani.

FILE - Incumbent Comoros President Azali Assoumani (front) greets supporters in Moroni on March 27, 2019 during celebrations for his re-election.
FILE - Incumbent Comoros President Azali Assoumani (front) greets supporters in Moroni on March 27, 2019 during celebrations for his re-election.

Violence broke out after police arrested Mohamed, one of 12 politicians who ran against Assoumani in the election. Police also took into custody more than a dozen women who were protesting against Assoumani's government.

Abdushakur Aboud, from VOA's Swahili service, reported Thursday that an armed group attempted to help former Maj. Faissoil Abdou Salam, and others the group considers to be political prisoners, to escape from prison in the capital, Moroni. Faissoil had been jailed for plotting against Assoumani.

Observers from three regional bodies — the African Union, the Common Market of Eastern and Southern Africa, and the African Standby Forces of the East — have said Comoros’ election was full of irregularities that led them to conclude it lacked credibility or transparency.

Assoumani came to power in a coup in 1999 and led the government until 2006. He was elected president again in 2016.

Late last year, he ordered elections to be held after Comorans voted to support changing the constitution to extend presidential terms from one five-year term to two. The opposition boycotted the referendum.

The change alters a balance of power established in 2001 that sought to end separatist crises. Under the old constitution, the presidency rotated among the presidents of the country's three main islands — Anjouan, Moheli and Grande Comore, which also is known as N'gazidja.

Comoros, with a population of about 850,000 people, is one of the world's poorest nations. It has experienced a series of military coups and attempted coups since independence from France in 1975.

Abdushakur Aboud of VOA's Swahili service contributed to this report.

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