Comoros Opposition Cries Foul as Election Violence Erupts

(Bloomberg) -- Gun shots, arrests and roadblocks marred voting in two of the three biggest islands of the Indian Ocean archipelago of Comoros as the first round of presidential elections began, with former leader Azali Assoumani’s campaign predicting victory.

“We have been informed that voting centers have opened illegally since 4 a.m. and full ballot boxes were already on spot,” 12 of 13 candidates in the elections said Sunday in statement sent to reporters. “Gunshots have been heard in several regions. Some representatives of candidates have been arrested.”

About 309,000 voters will choose their next president from a list of 13 candidates to govern the nation for the next five years. Any candidate winning more than half the votes in the first round will be the de facto leader. Voting started at 7 a.m. on Sunday.

“There hasn’t been anyone injured and no roads have been blocked,” Home Affairs Minister Mohamed Daoudou told reporters in the capital, Moroni. “The situation is under control.”

Daoudou denied accusations by opposition candidates regarding fraud.

Comoros, one of the world’s biggest producers of ylang ylang -- an essence used in perfumes -- posted average economic growth of 2.4 percent under Assoumani’s leadership, according to International Monetary Fund data. If elected in the current polls, he promises to boost the growth rate to 4 percent through investment in agriculture and tourism

“Azali would win it in the first round,” Assoumani’s campaign director, Houmed Msaidie, said on March 22 at a public gathering in the capital Moroni. Assoumani, who stepped down as president to take part in the election, hinted on March 18 at the same outcome.

The 60-year-old, Assoumani, earlier won a disputed referendum allowing him to change the constitution, extending presidential term limits and modifying the system of rotating power among the archipelago’s three main islands to 10 years instead of five.

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