The Guardian
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Comoros voids law extending leader’s term


THE highest court in Comoros has annulled a law which extended the mandate of the Indian Ocean islands’ leader after weeks of heightened political tensions on the coup-prone archipelago.

The Constitutional Court said President Mohamed Abdallah Sambi’s term in office would end later this month, and not November 2011, and recommended an interim period to agree on when the next ballot should be held.

The three islands of Grande Comore, Anjouan and Moheli that form the Union of Comoros have a system of rotating presidency and Sambi, who is from Anjouan, was to hand over power to a leader from Moheli when his term ended in May.

But elections have been fixed for November 2011, and residents and political leaders in Moheli have protested the move, terming it a coup which is delaying their turn at the presidency.

“On the May 26 the mandate of the Union’s president and his two vice presidents will end,” the court said in a statement on Saturday. “During this (interim) period the government does not have the right to dissolve parliament … nor to change the members of the Constitutional Court.”

Earlier this year, a newly elected parliament ratified a law aligning local and federal elections, effectively extending Sambi’s term by 18 months.

Sambi’s supporters argued the new legislation would cut bureaucracy and save costs in one of the world’s poorest countries. But his critics accused him of trying to cling on to power.

Many on the opposition-stronghold island of Moheli, which had been due to take over the rotating presidency on May 27, felt the law was a deliberate attempt to rob them of the presidency.

The Indian Ocean archipelago, sandwiched between Mozambique and Madagascar, has a history of political turmoil and coups since it won independence from France in 1975.

Growing anger on Moheli saw the government deploy extra security forces there to quell bouts of civil unrest and a ban on public rallies.

The emir of gas-rich Qatar on a brief visit to the Comoros recently said that his country would pay the salaries of the island nation’s civil servants who have not been paid for months.

The official QNA news agency quoted a member of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani’s delegation as saying he would cover all of the civil servants’ salaries for the nine months to the end of April, without specifying amounts.

Sheikh Khalifa, whose Gulf state has estimated natural gas reserves of more than 900 trillion cubic feet (25 trillion cubic metres) – third largest in the world after Russia and Iran – visited the Comoros for several hours.

It was the first official visit by an Arab head of state to the poor Indian Ocean archipelago, a politically tense Muslim state which has been rocked by more than 20 coups since independence from France in 1975.

On April 13 Libyan troops took up duty as part of Sambi’s guard, in a move that prompted concern by opposition groups who say they are mercenaries for the president.

Sambi said Tripoli had undertaken to pay the salaries of the Comoran military for a year, beginning this month.

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