, DJIBOUTI, Feb 19, 2011 – Djibouti\’s interior ministry on Saturday accused opposition demonstrators of violence and vandalism, a day after an unprecedented anti-regime protest ended in clashes with the police.
Thousands of youths in the tiny Horn of Africa nation took to the streets Friday to demand President Ismael Omar Guelleh, who has been in power since 1999, step down.
The demonstrators had planned to hunker down in front of a stadium in an Egypt-style protest demanding regime change but clashes broke out between protestors hurling stones and riot police firing tear gas grenades.
The interior ministry denounced "violent acts and acts of vandalism" in a statement received by AFP.
"At 6:30 pm, (1530 GMT), beyond the authorised timeframe for the demonstration…, participants attacked the security forces who then attempted to disperse them," the statement said.
"Members of the national police were forced to resort to tear gas grenades to protect themselves from a violent and over-excited crowd," it said.
The interior ministry also said groups of demonstrators torched several vehicles and damaged several police stations.
The statement said that the unrest lasted until at least 11:00 pm (2000 GMT) and added that, while the situation was calm early Saturday, it was unclear whether the protests would resume.
The rare demonstration in Djibouti was organised amid mounting opposition to the president, who last year had the constitution amended to allow him to seek a third six-year mandate in upcoming April 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.