Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Demonstrations Erupt Against U.S. and French Supported Regime in Djibouti

Demonstrations Erupt Against U.S. and French Supported Regime in Djibouti

State in the Horn of Africa has military bases for Pentagon and Paris

By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire

Anti-government demonstations have spread to the Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti where the opposition said that 30,000 people took to the streets on Feb. 18 demanding the resignation of President Ismael Omar Guelleh who has been in power since 1999. Two people were reported killed when police attacked protesters in the capital city of Djibouti.

The government detained and released three leaders of the opposition: National Democratic Party Chairman Aden Robleh, Djibouti Democratic Party Chairman Mohamed Daoud Chehem and Ismail Guedi Hared, whose Union for Democratic Change organized the massive demonstration on Feb. 18. The former French colony, which still maintains close ties to Paris, only has a population of less than 850,000, but serves as a strategic outpost in the Western imperialist so-called "war on terrorism."

Djibouti also houses the only known U.S. military base on the African continent and is therefore highly significant to the Pentagon's strategy aimed at dominating the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Peninsula. Although it is often said that the U.S. Africa Command does not have any bases on the continent, the Financial Times reported on Feb. 20 that Washington's Camp is in fact an outpost for AFRICOM. (Financial Times, Feb. 20)

Hared of the Union for Democratic Change told the Financial Times that demonstrations have taken place in seven towns throughout the country and that the opposition forces have formed an alliance to push for the removal of the existing regime. He claimed that there were more demonstrations planned despite the repressive tactics used by the Guelleh administration.

“The people are protesting against dictatorship, bad governance, lack of democracy and dynastic succession,” Mr Hared told the FT. “The opposition has formed a coalition and we have decided to do everything to make sure the protests continue.”

State television reports showed thousands of people fighting the security forces which utilized tear gas in an effort to break up crowds in the capital demonstrating against the government. There were also images of burnt vehicles and police welding batons against unarmed protesters.

One eyewitness reported to the Financial Times that “Just at the call for prayer around 18.30 there were a few minutes of silence and immediately after that the police moved in, they had several tear gas canister devices mounted on trucks and scatted everybody – everybody was just running, running trying to get away.”

The Guelleh regime in Djibouti engineered a constitutional change last year which extended the number of times that the president could run for office. The Ministry of the Interior has accused the opposition of wanting to seize power by force.

An opposition supporter from Balbala told Reuters press agency that "The people don't want this dictatorial regime. Our freedom is in our hands. We won't stop until our dreams come true." (Reuters, Feb. 20)

Another opposition activist was also detained by the authorities earlier in the month for investigating and reporting on demonstrations by students seeking a change in existing educational policies inside the country. Jean-Paul Abdi, who is in his mid-60s, is the president of the Djibouti League for Human Rights.

In a letter sent to President Guelleh, the U.S.-based Human Rights Watch organization stated that "Noel Abdi did not organise the protests nor did he take part in the demonstrations. He did not condone any disorderly behavior or looting or stone throwing."

Djibouti's Camp Lemonnier Serves as U.S. Base of Operations in the Horn of Africa

Since 2001, the Pentagon has set its sites on establishing a permanent military base in the Horn of Africa. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in Washington and New York, the U.S. Marines re-located a warship, the USS Whitney, to the waters off the coast of Djibouti in the Gulf of Aden and eventually moved on to a French built base known as Camp Lemonnier.

At present the camp is a United States Naval Expeditionary Base located at the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport. It serves as the home of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The chief officer at the CJTF-HOA is Navy Admiral Brian L. Losey, the base commander.

Djibouti is bordered by the Horn of Africa nations of Ethiopia, Somalia and Eritrea making it a valuable asset for U.S. imperialism in its efforts to dominate the region on the continent as well as the Arab Peninsula. In Somalia, the successive U.S. administrations have attempted to install puppet regimes since the advent of the war with Ethiopia in 1977-78. After Somalia was defeated by Ethiopia and Cuban internationalist forces in 1978, the conditions in Somalia have deteriorated.

In 1991, the U.S.-backed regime of Mohammed Siad Barre collapsed and for the last two decades the country has been divided along regional and sectional lines. In 1992, former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, sent thousands of marines into Somalia under the banner of "Operation Restore Hope."

After several months, Somalians rose up in armed opposition to the U.S. occupation forces who were operating ostensibly under the rubric of the United Nations. As a result of the fierece resistance of the Somali people, the United States and United Nations forces withdrew from the country during 1994.

Yet, after September 2001 with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and the U.S. occupation of Iraq in 2003, Somalia has been a major source for Washington's interference in the internal affairs of the African continent and surrounding states such as Yemen. In 2006, the U.S. attempted to install warlords in Somalia in order to prevent the Union of Islamic Courts (ICU) from consolidating power inside the country.

In early 2007, Washington encouraged, financed and coordinated the Ethiopian military under Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in an invasion and occupation of Somalia. Although the Ethiopian government denied that its intervention in Somalia was done at the aegis of the Pentagon under the Bush administration, documents released by WikiLeaks confirmed the already obvious role of the U.S. in this operation.

The Ethiopian occupation lasted for approximately two years resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Somalis and the displacement of two million. Many Somalis have not only been displaced inside their own country, but many have fled across the Red Sea to Yemen and in neighboring Djibouti and Kenya.

The combined resistance forces of al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam routed the Ethiopian occupation forces in early 2009. Since that time period, the U.S. has increased funding for the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM) which largely consist of 8,000 troops from the Washington-backed regimes in Uganda and Burundi.

At present the resistance movements in Somalia have merged and maintain control of large sections of the south and central regions of the country. The AMISOM forces control areas around the airport and presidential residence in the capital of Mogadishu.

Attacks against AMISOM and the Transitional Federal Government forces have taken a toll on the pro-U.S. troops. The general instability of the TFG forces resulted recently in their forces opening fire on a demonstration that was engineered by the government to support the regime of President Sheikh Ahmed Sharif who often meets with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

In an attack on Feb. 21 in Mogadishu, al-Shabaab bombed a police training camp at Seredi near the port at Mogadishu resulting in the deaths of at least 17 people. In claiming responsibility for the attack, a spokesman for the resistance movement, Ali Mohamud, said that "Today we carried out a blessed car bomb attack at the so-called police camp. This is a warning to our enemies and a pleasure for us." (Reuters, Feb. 21)

The overall instability of the TFG regime in Mogadishu has prompted the Belgium-based International Crisis Group (ICG) to call for the reduction of aid from western states. Commanders of the AMISOM forces from Uganda and Burundi have openly acknowledged that without their intervention and U.S. financial and military support, the TFG would soon collapse. (ICG Africa Report No. 170, Feb. 21)

U.S. Imperialism Faces Increasing Instability

The demonstrations in Djibouti against the government of President Ismael Omar Guelleh could pose a grave threat to Washington's overall strategy of dominance in the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Peninsula. Although it is not clear which direction these demonstrations will lead, if they result in the collapse of the existing regime it could raise the specter of a new government demanding the removal of the naval base at Camp Lemonnier, AFRICOM's only known base on the continent.

At the same time, the recent wave of popular uprisings throughout North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula has also struck Yemen, a key base of operations for the U.S. so-called "war on terrorism." Demonstrations over the last several weeks in Yemen have demanded the resignation of the government of President Saleh, a key ally of Washington.

These developments are taking place amid an escalation of military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have been overshadowed by the corporate media focus on the mass demonstrations in Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, Algeria and other states. In Iraq as well, there have been demonstrations in the south of the country against the U.S.-installed puppet regime over the poor delivery of services to the population.

In Iraq attacks were carried out against a television station in Sulaimaniyah, northeast of the capital Baghdad. Demonstrations have also occured in this city by the population which is angry over the failure of the U.S. puppet regime to supply basic services to the people. In Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, a police station was attacked on Feb. 20 resulting in the reported deaths of 12 people.

In Afghanistan on Feb. 21, an attack by resistance forces on a government building in the Imam Sahib district in the Kunduz Province has resulted in the deaths of at least 30 people. The attacks by the U.S. and NATO on civilian areas resulting in massive deaths have fueled opposition to the ongoing occupation of the country.

With the U.S. being forced to respond to so many outbreaks of political unrest in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, Washington is undergoing a re-evaluation of its foreign policy in these various geo-political regions. The head of the Pentagon Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has embarked upon a tour of various countries including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Djibouti and Kuwait.

Anti-war and anti-imperialist forces inside the United States must follow these developments closely and adopt political programs and slogans that express solidarity with the progressive character of the demonstrations, rebellions and uprisings sweeping these areas of the world.

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