Rebels Attack Palace, Kill Comoro Republic’s President
MAYOTTE, Comoro Islands (AP) _ Mutineers led by a former army commander attacked the presidential palace in the Comoro Republic and killed President Ahmed Abdallah Abderrahmane, longtime ruler of the Indian Ocean island nation, officials said Monday.
The rebel leader, former commandant Ahmed Mohamed, resigned recently in a dispute with the 70-year-old president, an official at the Comoro Embassy in Paris said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
He said the Sunday night assassination was not a coup and that Mohamed was under arrest. The number of attackers was not divulged and the official said he did not know if anyone else was seized.
Abderrahmane was killed in a firefight between rebel soldiers of the regular army and his 300-man presidential guard, state Radio Comoro said. It said a guard officer also was killed.
The head of the Supreme Court, Mohamed Djohar, took over as leader of an interim government as dictated by the constitution, the official said. The government declared a 40-day period of mourning.
Abderrahmane had survived coup attempts in 1983, 1985 and 1987. His government denied reports of a coup attempt in 1981.
The Sunday attack took place in the capital of Moroni, on the main island of Grand Camore, home to half the nation’s predominantly Moslem population of 500,000. The Comoros, which lie between Mozambique and Madagascar, were governed by Abderrahmane for all but three years since 1972.
The former French colony is among the world’s poorest and least developed nations, with an estimated annual per capita income of $339. About 60 percent of the population is younger than 20.
Abderrahmane will be buried Tuesday on his native island of Anjouan, said Radio Comoro, monitored on the French-administered island of Mayotte.
The fighting apparently did not spill into the streets. Bruce Thompson, manager of the Galewa Sun hotel, told the South African Press Association by telephone everything was normal - ″The town is very quiet.″
Three weeks ago, Abderrahmane won a referendum allowing him to seek a third six-year term when his term expires next year. Official results showed the measure passed with 92.5 percent of the vote.
The five opposition parties complained of voting irregularities and opposition leaders in Paris said Abderrahmane jailed critics shortly after the balloting.
Abderrahmane, a Moslem was first elected president in 1972, when the archipelago was still a French possession. The Comoros unilaterally declared independence in July 1975 and Abderrahmane became head of state.
He was overthrown a month later by Ali Soilih, who said Abderrahmane had amassed personal power in a dictatorial style, but returned to power in 1978 in another coup led by French mercenary Bob Denard.
Denard, now 60, created the black-shirted presidential guard and staffed it with European soldiers of fortune. He became a special adviser to Abderrahmane, converted to Islam and settled in the islands. It was not known Monday whether he played any role in the latest episode.
The presidential guard was better equipped and trained than the 700-man regular army and many Comorans came to see it as a device to keep Abderrahmane in power.
Abderrahmane resisted calls to reform his regime and accused France, the former colonial power, of fomenting rebellion against him.
He had long been irked by France’s refusal to cede control of Mayotte to his government. The island decided in a 1975 referendum to remain French.
President F.W. De Klerk of South Africa sent a message of condolence Monday addressed to the ″acting head of government″ condemning the assassination.
South Africa is a major foreign investor in the republic. The three islands of Grand Comore, Anjouan and Moheli cover 718 square miles.
The republic’s main income is from tourism and the export of perfume, copra, coconuts, cloves, vanilla and cinnamon.