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  Nation World  


 

 
Region in revolt
Kadhafi loyalists threaten to snuff out protests

TRIPOLI (AFP) – Moamer Kadhafi’s regime vowed to snuff out attempts to challenge the Libyan leader, after an opposition “day of anger” became a bloodbath and two policemen were reported hanged by protesters.
According to a toll compiled by AFP from different local sources, at least 41 people have lost their lives since demonstrations first erupted on Tuesday.
That toll does not include two policemen who were killed on Friday.
Oea newspaper, which is close to Kadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam, said they were killed after being captured in the eastern city of Al-Baida.
Security forces were deployed around Al-Baida on Friday, a source close to the authorities told AFP, following reports on the Internet that anti-regime protesters had seized control of the city.
“Security forces were deployed heavily around the city and control all roads in and out, as well as the airport,” the source said, declining to be named.
Oea also reported that 20 people were buried in Libya’s second city of Benghazi on Friday after being killed in protests. A previous toll supplied by a medical source in the city was 14 dead.
And protesters set fire to the headquarters of a local radio station in Benghazi after the building’s guards withdrew, witnesses and a security source told AFP.
Seven people were killed in protests in Derna, east of Benghazi, Oea reported.
Earlier, the Revolutionary Committees, which are the backbone of Kadhafi’s regime, warned protesters in no uncertain terms.
“The response of the people and the Revolutionary Forces to any adventure by these small groups will be sharp and violent,” the Revolutionary Committees said on the website of their newspaper, Azzahf Al-Akhdar (Green March).
“The power of the people, the Jamahiriya (government by the masses), the Revolution and the leader are all red lines, and anyone who tries to cross or approach them will be committing suicide and playing with fire.”
Several thousand mourners on Friday went straight from weekly prayers to funerals for the Benghazi dead, witnesses told AFP, with one reporting that 13 victims were buried in the city’s Hawari cemetery.
“The security forces’ vicious attacks on peaceful demonstrators lay bare the reality of Moamer Kadhafi’s brutality when faced with any internal dissent,” said HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director, Sarah Leah Whitson.
In Al-Baida, a well-informed Libyan source told AFP 14 civilians have been killed since Wednesday, including both protesters and members of the Revolutionary Committees.
The source could not say how many members of the security forces had been killed.
In another sign of growing disorder, about 1,000 inmates broke out of a prison in Benghazi, Quryna newspaper reported on its website, and four convicts were killed by security forces when they tried to flee another prison outside Tripoli, a security services source said.
The overall reported toll does not include the four prisoners.

 
Bahrain protesters shot as heir promises talks

MANAMA (AFP) – Bahraini security forces opened fire on anti-regime protesters in the capital, wounding dozens, after the military vowed “strict measures” to restore order in the wake of a deadly police raid.
Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa promised to open a national dialogue once calm returns, a statement quickly backed by a royal announcement that he had been assigned to start such discussions.
US President Barack Obama condemned the violence in Bahrain, which is of vital strategic importance to Washington because the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is based there and some 40 percent of the world’s oil passes through the Gulf.
The prospect of a prolonged crisis raises fears of a potential flashpoint between Iran and its Gulf Arab rivals, if the Islamic republic attempts to capitalise on the Shiite-led protest.
Marchers had been trying to reach Pearl Square, the epicentre of pro-democracy protests that have shaken the Gulf island state, when the forces opened fire.
Witnesses said the gunfire was targeting them near Salmaniya hospital, about two kilometres (one mile) to the south.
“Twenty-six wounded people, including some with serious injuries, have been admitted o Salmaniya hospital,” Shiite opposition MP Ali al-Aswad told AFP.
One of the wounded was “clinically dead.”
This was the first demonstration since police stormed the square before dawn on Thursday, killing four people and wounding around 200 others.
Following that raid, which drew widespread international condemnation, troops were deployed in Manama, and the defence ministry warned that the army will “take all strict and preventive measures to restore security and public order.”
Aswad accused the army of Friday’s shooting, while witnesses earlier said it was the police.
“The army fired live bullets at more than one thousand people who wanted to reach the Pearl” Square, he said.
In a television interview, Prince Salman said: “our dialogue must take place in a climate of total calm,” adding that “no issue can be excluded from that dialogue.”
“What is happening today in Bahrain is not acceptable... We have reached a dangerous stage that necessitates that each of us acknowledges the responsibilities... Bahrain today is divided,” he said.
In a statement read on state television, King Hamad charged the crown prince with starting a “dialogue with all sides and groups in the kingdom with no exceptions.”
“We have given him all the powers needed to reach the aspirations of all esteemed citizens,” he added, urging all sides to “cooperate faithfully” with the crown prince.
The statement made no mention of the latest violence.

 
Berlusconi meets Vatican leaders amid sex scandal

ROME (AFP) – Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was upbeat after a brief meeting with top Vatican officials at a ceremony in Rome, just days after being called to stand trial for an underage sex crime.
Asked by reporters how the meeting went as he came out, Berlusconi was quoted by ANSA news agency as saying: “Very well, as always.”
Vatican officials left without making any comment.
Berlusconi has been criticised by the Roman Catholic Church over the scandal involving a then 17-year-old alleged prostitute nicknamed Ruby.
The meeting on Friday marked the anniversary of the 1929 Lateran Accords between Italy and the Holy See, which gave the Vatican full sovereignty.
Sources said Italian and Vatican officials discussed the status of Christian minorities in the Middle East and laws on medical ethics in Italy.
During the meeting Berlusconi was seen speaking to Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, the powerful head of the Conference of Italian Bishops.
He did not meet Vatican number two Tarcisio Bertone, who was also there.
Bertone last month spoke of “concern” regarding the Berlusconi sex scandal.
“The Church urges and invites everyone, especially those who hold a position of public responsibility... to commit themselves to a more solid morality, a sense of justice and legality,” he told reporters at the time.

 
Mideast unrest puts US military access in jeopardy
WASHINGTON (AFP) – Popular unrest sweeping the Middle East highlights the US military’s reliance on Arab regimes that offer privileged access to airfields and ports from Cairo to Qatar.
The military’s dominant role in the region hinges on a web of agreements with friendly Arab states that allow American forces to patrol oil shipping routes in the Gulf, target Islamist militants and keep a watchful eye on arch-foe Iran.
Roughly 27,000 US forces are deployed at an array of bases and sites throughout the Gulf, along with a 50,000-strong contingent in Iraq and thousands more aboard naval ships, a US military official told AFP.
Major air fields in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, a large base in Kuwait and the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain serve as key points in an arc around Iran, ensuring American forces can move swiftly with heavy firepower.
 
Tunisia government tries to calm discontent
TUNIS (AFP) – Tunisia’s caretaker government granted amnesty to political prisoners and new aid to the poor as it moved to counter simmering discontent a month after the ouster of its strongman president.
The amnesty will be formalised by a decree “in the next few days”, after it was approved by the cabinet of Prime Minister Mohamed Ghannouchi, government spokesman Taieb Baccouch said.
The government also moved on the social front, extending assistance to an additional 50,000 disadvantaged families and offering minimum wage to construction workers employed in public services since 2000.
The measures were taken during the
third cabinet meeting of the transition government to respond to some of the major demands
of the population.
Strikes in several economic sectors and an atmosphere of social discontent has continued to roil the north African country since massive protests ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14.
Ghannouchi’s interim government has warned that the country is at risk of collapsing if the work stoppages and sometimes violent demonstrations do not stop.
The government also called for negotiations to begin in the public and private sectors in response to a major demand of the powerful UGTT union.
Baccouch said the talks should be aimed at “relaunching the activities of public and private enterprises and boosting economic activity”.
 
Uganda vote set to extend Museveni’s rule
KAMPALA (AFP) –
Ugandans voted in polls widely expected to extend Yoweri Museveni’s rule to 30 years, amid opposition accusations the veteran leader was rigging his way to re-election.
“The electoral commission is satisfied with things so far. There have been some incidents around the country but we corrected them as we went along,” Charles Willy Ochola, electoral commission spokesman, said.
Some 14 million voters, out of a total population of just under 33 million, were to choose their next president and their members of parliament.
The electoral commission must, by law, publish complete results within 48 hours after the close of voting, that is by 1400 GMT Sunday.
Mary Karooro Okurut, spokeswoman for the ruling National Resistence Movement, also expressed satisfaction.
“I’ve just heard about a few isolated incidents but otherwise we’re happy, we think the elections were as peaceful as the campaign,” she said.
But Margaret Wokuri, an opposition spokeswoman saw things differently. “We have serious concerns about what happened today. Many of our people have been harassed,” she said.
Voting material was delivered several hours late to some polling stations in Kampala, identified by residents as being in opposition strongholds.
Ochola of the Electoral Commission blamed “traffic” for the delay, despite the virtual absence of vehicles from the capital’s streets.
South Korea says more N Korea attacks possible
SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea could launch more military attacks against South Korea, Seoul’s prime minister said, after a senior US military commander voiced similar fears.
“North Korea is not showing a responsible attitude yet,” Kim Hwang-Sik said while presiding over an annual defence meeting of top military commanders, ministers and presidential aides.
“Seeing the situations in North Korea, there is a chance of its military provocation again,” Yonhap news agency quoted Kim as saying. “So (the South’s military) should be fully prepared.”
Tensions have been high since the North’s bombardment of a South Korean border island last November, which killed four people including civilians.
Seoul also accuses Pyongyang of sinking one of its warships last March with the loss of 46 lives, a charge it denies.
Military talks aimed at improving relations broke down last week, and the North said there was no need for further dialogue with “traitors” in the South.
Satellite photos made public this week show that the North has apparently completed work on a new and larger launch site for long-range missiles.
Admiral Robert Willard, head of the US Pacific Command, said in Washington Thursday there are no signs of an upcoming launch.
But he expressed fears of some sort of new “provocation” within months.
Many analysts and officials believe last year’s attacks were aimed at burnishing the military credentials of Kim Jong-Un, the youngest son and heir apparent to elderly leader Kim Jong-Il.
Pointing to the succession process, Willard said: “We may very well be facing the next provocation in months and not years.”
 
Recap of developments in Middle East, North Africa

DUBAI (AFP) – Here are developments in the unrest sweeping the Middle East and North Africa following uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia that toppled their longtime rulers.
ALGERIA: A senior former leader of the Algerian regime, Abdelhamid Mehri, called for sweeping political changes in the North African country in an open letter to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
BAHRAIN: Police opened fire on anti-regime Shiite protesters in Manama, wounding dozens, a day after four were killed and some 200 wounded as tanks and troops keep a tight security clamp in the Sunni-ruled Gulf monarchy.
DJIBOUTI: Thousands of opposition supporters, mainly students, gathered in Djibouti to demand President Ismael Omar Guelleh step down before he seeks re-election for a third term in April elections.
EGYPT: Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians massed into Cairo’s Tahrir Square to celebrate the fall of strongman Hosni Mubarak and to pressure the new military rulers to deliver on reform pledges, while hundreds of others staged a “sorry, president” rally.
IRAN: Tens of thousands of regime loyalists poured on to the streets of Tehran to demand that opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi be hanged for their “rebellion.”
IRAQ: The offices of a Kurdish regional opposition party were targeted by looters, officials said, after Iraq’s most violent protests since the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia left three dead in two days.
JORDAN: Government supporters clashed with young protesters in Amman, leaving eight people injured, in the first such violence since protests began in Jordan, witnesses and medics said.
KUWAIT: At least five people, including a security man, were hurt and dozens arrested as Kuwaiti riot police clashed with hundreds of stateless Arab protesters demanding rights.
LIBYA: Four prisoners were killed trying to escape a Tripoli prison, while inmates of a Benghazi succeeded in doing so before burning a bank, prosecutor’s office and police station, local press said, after protests against Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi have led to at least 28 deaths in three days.
MOROCCO: Ahead of a planned pro-reform rally, Morocco announced it would inject 1.4 billion euros in subsidies to soften price hikes for staples -- a key factor behind the spreading unrest in the Arab world.
SYRIA: Hundreds of Syrians staged an impromptu protest against security forces after traffic police beat a young man in the capital’s Old City, a Dubai-based website reported.
TUNISIA: Ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali suffered a stroke and was “in a coma” in a Saudi hospital, a family friend said, as more details of corruption under his rule came to light.
YEMEN: Anti-regime protesters in Taez were blasted with a hand grenade killing two and injuring dozens, while three were shot dead as police opened fire in Aden. Violent clashes also erupted in Sanaa, witnesses said, on a sixth day of demonstrations.

 
Egypt allows Iran
warships to transit Suez
CAIRO (AFP) – Egypt gave permission for Iranian warships to transit the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean, state media reported, after Israel described the move as a “provocation.”
“Egypt agreed to allow two Iranian warships to transit the Suez Canal,” the official MENA news agency reported.
Canal officials say it would be the first time Iranian warships have made the passage since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
MENA reported that the request for the ship to pass said they were not carrying weapons or nuclear and chemical materials.
It is not known when the ships are expected to arrive at Port Said, the northern terminus of the canal on the Mediterranean. From there they are expected to sail to Syria.
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has labelled the Iranian action as “hostile’ and said Israel was closely monitoring the situation.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said an Iranian naval presence in the area was a “provocation that proves the self-confidence and cheek of the Iranians is growing from day to day”.
Asked by AFP in Jerusalem to comment on the latest development, foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor recalled Lieberman’s comments on Wednesday.
“We have nothing to add to the minister’s statement,” Palmor said on Friday. “It’s still valid.”
Earlier, an Egyptian foreign ministry official said the Iranian request was passed on to the defence ministry, which has to approve the passage of any warship through the canal.
His comments came a day after a canal official and a shipping agent said the request had been cancelled, at the prompting of the Egyptian government. An Iranian diplomat said administrative reasons where behind the delay.
Iran’s official Fars new agency, quoting senior naval commanders, has said the ships are the 33,000-tonne refuelling and support vessel Kharg and the 1,500-tonne light patrol frigate Alvand, both British-built.
The Kharg has a crew of 250 and can carry up to three helicopters. The Alvand is armed with torpedos and anti-ship missiles.
 
12 die in Afghanistan bombings
KHOST (AFP) – Twelve people were killed in two blasts near the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan, including a Taliban car bomb which led to nine deaths near a district police headquarters.
The first attack came in the city of Khost, where nine people were killed and 40 others were injured, four of them seriously, public health official Amir Badsha Mangal said.
A local police chief, Abdul Hakim Eshaqzai, said that a policeman as well as women and children were among the dead, adding that the city’s hospitals have been “overwhelmed” by the influx of wounded.
It was the second major attack in a week on Afghan police, who alongside a fledgling army, are due to take control of security from US-led NATO troops by the end of 2014 to allow the bulk of Western forces to withdraw.
In a second incident, three police were killed in Nangahar province, which like Khost province borders Pakistan, after a roadside bomb ripped through their vehicle, a provincial spokesman said.
Meanwhile, international forces said more than 30 insurgents had been killed in a four-hour, overnight air raid in Kunar province, also in the east.
“While on an aerial security patrol, the air weapons team positively identified armed insurgents in the area and engaged them,” the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.
“After the initial firing, a large number of armed individuals emerged from a nearby building and were subsequently targeted and killed by the air weapons team.”
And in northern Afghanistan’s Baghlan province, two German soldiers were killed and seven wounded when a man wearing an Afghan National Army uniform shot at them at a base.
Another soldier whose nationality has not been confirmed was killed by a separate bomb blast in southern Afghanistan.
Following the Khost blast, an AFP reporter said blood and body parts littered the road near the scene and that nearby windows in a busy civilian area had been shattered.
Pieces of human flesh were flung up to 50 metres (yards) from the blast spot, indicating the explosion was a strong one, the reporter said.
 

Obama vows US will
‘out-hustle’ world

HILLSBORO (AFP) – President Barack Obama vowed Friday to make America “the best place on Earth to do business,” making his case for investments that have sparked a raging budget battle with Republicans.
Obama travelled to Intel’s most sophisticated semiconductor plant in Oregon to tout his plans to invest in science and education despite seeking ways to rein in spending in other areas to deal with a ballooning deficit.
“In a world that is more competitive than ever before, it’s our job to make sure that America is the best place on earth to do business,” Obama said,
“Even as we have to live within our means, we can’t sacrifice investments in our future,” Obama said.
“If we want the next technological breakthrough that leads to the next Intel to happen here in the United States – not in China or not in Germany... then we have to invest in America’s research and technology, in the work of our scientists and our engineers.”
Obama’s budget released on Monday would shift billions towards technology and green energy sectors, and into transportation systems, while imposing spending freezes and trimming unaffordable projects.
But Republicans complain Obama is wasting money on big spending programs while doing little to bring the deficit, forecast to reach $1.65 trillion this year, under control.
Since his State of the Union address last month, Obama has been trying to convince Americans that their country can only compete with nations like China and India with a burst of innovation and new investment.
“If we want to make sure Intel doesn’t have to look overseas for skilled, trained workers, then we’ve got to invest in our people – in our schools, in our colleges, in our children,” Obama said in Oregon.
“Basically, if we want to win the future, America has to out-build, and out-innovate, and out-educate and out-hustle the rest of the world. That’s what we’ve got to do.”
 
Mind-moved bionic arm goes on display in US
WASHINGTON (AFP) – A bionic prosthetic arm that is controlled by its operator’s thoughts and feels like the amputee’s lost limb went on display at a major US science conference.
More than 50 amputees worldwide, many of them military veterans whose limbs were lost in combat, have received such devices since they were first developed by US doctor Todd Kuiken in 2002.
The arm uses technology called Targeted Muscle Reinervation (TMR), which works by rerouting brain signals from nerves that were severed in the injury to muscles that are working and intact.
“What we do is use the nerves that are still left,” Kuiken said. “Muscle becomes the biological amplifier.”
Glen Lehman, a retired US military sergeant who lost his arm in Iraq, demonstrated the latest technology at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
“It feels great, if feels intuitive. It is a lot better than the other prosthetic I have now,” said Lehman, whose forearm and elbow were blown off in a Baghdad grenade attack in 2008.
“The other one is still controlled by muscle impulse, you just flex muscle to make it move, it is not intuitive. This arm is more trained to me, whereas the other arm I had to train to it,” he said.
“It does feel like my own hand.”
Lehman demonstrated for reporters how he could pinch his finger and thumb together, lift his forearm and bend his elbow, and turn his wrist just by thinking about those actions.
Kuiken said more advances, such as the ability to transfer some sensation to the limb, are being studied in the lab but have not yet made it to patients.
Other drawbacks include the inability to sense how hard the battery-powered prosthetic hand is squeezing, but Kuiken said scientists are working on ways to improve the technology with added sensors.
“Our goal would be to put sensors in the prosthesis to, for example, know how hard you are squeezing and then bring that up and have a device squeeze on this area (of the bicep) so the patient has an idea of how hard he is squeezing.”
Kuiken said the team has encountered some technological “challenges” that have slowed progress but is “excited about moving forward.”
A series of other efforts to test and improve on these mind-reading robotics, known as brain-computer interfaces, were also showcased at the conference.
 
Rights groups press Thailand on boat people
BANGKOK (AFP) – Thailand should swiftly investigate the treatment of almost a hundred boat people amid claims the group was set adrift in a vessel without an engine, rights organisations said.
Thai authorities have said 91 asylum seekers from the Muslim, Bengali-speaking Rohingya ethnic group were returned to Myanmar in January soon after they washed up on the country’s shore, Amnesty International said.
But 91 people believed to be Rohingya landed in India’s Andaman islands in early February and said the Thai navy pushed them out to sea “in an engineless boat with limited food and water”, the rights group said.
“Amnesty International called on the government of Thailand to institute a prompt, independent and transparent investigation into how Thai authorities treated this group,” it said.
Thailand’s handling of the Rohingya – described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities – has caused controversy in the past.
Security forces towed hundreds of people from the Muslim community out to sea in “unseaworthy boats” and cast them adrift in late 2008 and early 2009 and some “subsequently died at sea”, Amnesty said.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also urged the Thai authorities to investigate.
“If the Thai government wants the world to believe that history is not repeating itself, they need to go well beyond their quick-draw denial and launch a full public investigation into these very serious allegations,” said Asia deputy director Phil Robertson.
Mainly Buddhist Myanmar effectively denies citizenship and property rights to the Rohingya, prompting many to flee the country, often to refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The Rohingya are subject to “systematic persecution, including forced labour, forced eviction, land confiscation, and severe restrictions on freedom of movement”, Amnesty said.
Hundreds of individuals claiming to be from the ethnic minority, including a number of children, have been detained in Thailand since January.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was given access to many of these people earlier this month, but was unable to speak to the 91 people in question.
A further 129 Rohingyas remain in Indonesia after they were found drifting off the northern tip of the island of on Tuesday.
 
Thousands protest in Bolivia over food prices
LA PAZ (AFP) – A national protest over rising food prices in Bolivia paralysed several cities and sectors of the economy in South America’s poorest country.
It was the second national protest in less than two months, led by labour unions, in the latest sign that socialist President Evo Morales faces growing unrest.
Schools closed, hospitals handled only emergencies, and public transportation was greatly reduced. Streets in the central city of Cochabamba were blocked by barricades and thousands of people marched in the capital city La Paz.
Demonstrations also took place in Santa Cruz, Oruro, Potosi, Sucre, in response to calls for action by the powerful Bolivian labour federation (COB).
Protesters called for Morales to increase salaries, and reverse the rising prices of food and services.
“He said that he would govern with the people – put it into practice!” said Pedro Montes, the COB’s secretary general.
Led by unions under a chilly rain, the La Paz rally was punctuated by the blast of dynamite sticks set off by some protesters.
There were no immediate reports of anyone being hurt, and the demonstration dispersed peacefully after several hours.
The protests, however, showed renewed anger over the inability of many Bolivians to keep up with the price rises, especially for sugar.
Last month, violent protests broke out in the nation even after the government backed off an attempt to halt hefty fuel subsidies, which ease the cost of food transport and cooking.
 

Demonstrators, police clash in Djibouti streets

DJIBOUTI (AFP) – Djibouti police firing tear gas clashed Friday with demonstrators who turned out in their thousands in an unprecedented protest to demand the departure of President Ismael Omar Guelleh, an AFP reporter said.
The protest by opposition supporters had started peacefully at around 2:00 pm (1100 GMT) but the demonstrators then decided to set up camp outside a stadium, vowing to remain there until their demand is met.
After dusk, the standoff escalated into clashes, pitting demonstrators hurling stones against riot police firing tear gas grenades.
The area facing the interior ministry was blocked to traffic, with only police vehicles screeching past with their sirens wailing.
Two burned-out cars could be seen near the el-Hannan hospital; other vehicles were damaged and glass from broken car windows crunched underfoot.
The rare demonstration in the tiny Horn of Africa country was organised amid mounting opposition to the president, who last year had the constitution amended to allow him to seek a third mandate in upcoming April elections.
“IOG out”, read one banner, using the president’s initials, as most Djiboutians do. “No to a third mandate”, read another banner.
When the demonstration started opposition leaders addressed a peaceful crowd consisting mainly of students.
Colonel Abdillahi Abdi Farah, the national police chief, told AFP that the protestors were no more than 600 to 700.
But the crowd swelled as several thousand protestors set up camp at the entrance of a stadium facing the interior ministry, with the intention of staying there until their demand is met.
Later in the afternoon, the president of the Union for Democratic Change, an umbrella group of three opposition parties, Ismael Guedi Hared, put the number of demonstrators at 40,000.
“This peaceful popular uprising reflects the desire of the Djiboutian people to see the fall of the ruling regime,” he told AFP.
Demonstrators were determined to hunker down in front of the stadium for as long as necessary, mimicking the protracted protests on Cairo’s Tahrir square that got the better of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year-old rule.
Asked if he hoped for an Egypt-like scenario, Hared said: “Yes, that’s it.”
“We came out here to stay. We will leave when the regime collapses,” said Habiba, a young student from Djibouti University.
“We don’t want you here anymore, IOG,” shouted Hassan, a young unemployed Djiboutian from the capital’s Balbala neighbourhood.
Security forces were deployed en masse but initially refrained from attempting to break up the protest.
Small groups of protesters could still be seen in the streets later in the night after police broke up the gathering and the clashes died down, an AFP correspondent said.
The national radio and television made no mention of the protests in their Friday evening broadcasts.
The 63-year-old Guelleh has been in power since 1999 and the new constitution allows him to stand for anothyer six-year term in the April 8 elections.
Djibouti, a former French territory, sits in a strategic location commanding the strait between the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
It has borders with Somalia’s breakaway state of Somaliland, Ethiopia, Eritrea and faces Yemen, where protests demanding long-time President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster have left 10 people dead since Sunday.
Students had already held smaller protests and clashed with police earlier this month, although they were demonstrating mainly against the marking system in law exams.
The authorities had arrested several people in the aftermath of the protests, including opposition activists and a prominent human rights campaigner.
 
Ousted president returns to Madagascar
JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Former Madagascar president Marc Ravalomanana will return to the island nation in a bid to prepare new elections nearly two years after his army-backed ouster.
The deposed president, who returns under the threat of arrest, declared himself as Madagascar’s rightful leader and said he was going back to start “desperately needed” talks that must pave the way to new polls.
“I am the democratically elected and constitutional president of Madagascar,” he told a press conference in South Africa, where he has been in exile.
“I return to my country humbly, so that we can return to democracy, and together create a bright future for Madagascar.”
The rule of his rival Andry Rajoelina, the army-backed opposition leader who ousted him in a coup in March 2009, was illegal and it was time for him to return home, he said.
“Only a truly national consensus, forged by the Malagasy people, through direct talks in our own country, can restore us to democracy – and can ensure that nobody can ever seize power illegally in Madagascar again,” he said.
French Cooperation Minister Henri de Raincourt’s office meanwhile announced that he would make a two-day visit to Madagascar beginning the same day as Ravalomanana’s return.
In a statement, the ministry said Raincourt and a team of mediators would “meet one by one with the different political forces present.”
A member of the minister’s delegation said Raincourt had no plans to meet with Ravalomanana but was open to seeing any political party that requested it.
A Madagascan minister warned Wednesday that Ravalomanana would be arrested if he returned to the island.
Ravalomanana was sentenced in absentia to life in prison and hard labour last year for the death of 30 opposition protesters killed by presidential guards as they attempted to march on the presidential palace on February 7, 2009.
“I know the risks facing my return, but cannot allow them to get in the way of us restoring democracy. I have nothing to fear. I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
The former president appeared confident as spoke at a lectern bearing Madagascar’s national seal, saying his decision to return had been influenced by the recent protests in Tunisia and Egypt.
“These are momentous times. We have been inspired and gratified by the democratic aspirations in Tunisia, Egypt and other countries,” he said.
Ravalomanana said he had informed South African authorities and would meet them on Thursday afternoon about his plan to return.
However, the country’s foreign ministry said it noted Ravalomanana’s intent to return to Madagascar but cautioned “against any unilateral measures taken prior to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ meeting.