Country in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the east coast of Africa, comprising three islands - Njazidja (Grande Comore), Nzwani (Anjouan), and Mwali (Moheli). A fourth island in the group, Mayotte, is a French dependency. Together the islands are known as the Comoros Islands.
Under its 2001 constitution, the Union of Comoros is a multiparty, federal presidential republic. The Union comprises three islands, Grande Comore, Anjouan and Mohéii, each with a president and vice-president popularly elected for four-year terms. Each island has financial autonomy, with control over its own budget. The head of state and government of the Union is the federal president, a position occupied by a president of the three islands on a four-yearly rotating basis. The Union has a 33-member legislature, the Assembly of the Union,\which comprises 18 members elected in single-membert constituencies for four-year terms, and 15 representatives of the regional assemblies.
Originally inhabited by Asians, Africans, and Indonesians, the Comoros islands were controlled by Muslim sultans until the French acquired them 1841-1909. The islands became a French colony in 1912 and were attached to Madagascar 1914-47, when they were made a French overseas territory. Internal self-government was attained in 1961, but full independence was not achieved until 1975 because of Mayotte's reluctance to sever links with France. Although the Comoros joined the United Nations in 1975, with Ahmed
Abdallah as president, Mayotte remained under French administration.
In 1975 French mercenaries, led by Bob Denard, overthrew Abdallah and replaced him with Prince Said Mohammed Jaffar. In January 1976, Jaffar was overthrown, in turn, by Ali Soilih, his defence minister. Relations with France deteriorated as Ali Soilih became more powerful as president under a new constitution and introduced a socialist economic programme and an isolationist foreign policy. In 1978 he was overthrown and killed by French mercenaries led again by Denard working for Abdallah. Abdallah's use of mercenaries in his return to power led to the Comoros' expulsion from the Organization of African Unity (OAU; later African Union).
One-party state under Abdallah
Abdallah set up an authoritarian regime and the influence of traditional Islam increased. A federal Islamic republic was proclaimed, a new constitution adopted, and Abdallah reconfirmed as president in an election where he was the only candidate. Diplomatic relations with France were restored. In 1979 the Comoros became a one-party state, and government powers were increased. In the same year a plot to overthrow Abdallah was foiled. In 1984 he was re-elected president, and in the following year the constitution was amended, abolishing the post of prime minister and making Abdallah head of government as well as head of state.
Overthrow of Abdallah
In November 1989, Abdallah was assassinated by an army officer under the command of Col Bob Denard, who led the presidential guard. This occurred shortly after Abdallah had ordered the Guard to disarm the armed forces because Abdallah feared a coup. Denard was subsequently flown to South Africa by French army units. A provisional military administration was set up, with Said Muhammad Djohar, Soilih's half-brother, as president. Attempted antigovernment coups were foiled in 1990 and 1992. A general election in November 1992 proved inconclusive but in a further election in December 1993 Djohar's supporters won an overall majority. In October 1995 Djohar was briefly overthrown in a coup, again led by French mercenary Col Bob Denard. After six days Djohar was restored to power by French troops and Denard was sent to France to face trial. In November 1995, while Djohar was absent from the country, the acting prime minister, Caabi el Yachroutu Muhammad, declared himself interim president and appointed a ‘government of national unity’. Djohar disputed Yachroutu's action and appointed a rival government under Said Ali Muhammad. Djohar was exiled to Reunion but was allowed to return in January 1996 in a non-political capacity.
In March 1996 Muhammad Taki Abdoulkarim (1936-98) was elected president and in May Tajiddine Ben Said Massonde was appointed prime minister. Assembly elections in December 1996 were boycotted by the opposition parties and President Abdoulkarim's new party, the National Rally for Development (RND) was successful on a 20% turnout. Ahmed Abdou was appointed prime minister.
During 1997 Taki's government lost control of two of the Comoros federation's three islands and ignored appeals from France and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to refrain from military intervention. Anjouan (Nzwani), the second largest of the three-island group, seceded in August 1997, with Foundi Abdallah Ibrahim as leader and self-declared president, after months of protest, civil unrest, and clashes with security forces. The smallest of the islands, Mohéli (Mwali), followed suit, leaving Taki's government in control of only Grande Comoro (Njazidja). Comoran government troops launched an assault in September 1997 on the breakaway island of Anjouan, battling with secessionist defenders. The situation, however, remained unresolved.
Taki died in November 1998 and Tajiddine Ben Said Massounde, from Anjouan, became interim president. In mid-December 1998 militia regained control of the capital of Anjouan.
Azali Assoumani seizes power following coup
In May 1999, Massounde was deposed in a bloodless coup led by army chief of staff Colonel Azali Assoumani, who criticized Massounde for failing to get to grips with labour unrest and the secessionist challenge. It was the country's 18th coup since independence in 1975. The country was renamed the Union of Comoros
In February 2001, the OAU brokered a national reconciliation agreement which was signed by the government and the secessionist islands of Anjouan and Mohéli. It provided for substantial autonomy, while leaving currency, defence, and foreign affairs in the hands of the Comoros national government. A new constitution was put in place in December 2001 and a transitional government formed in January 2002, with Hamada Madi as acting president and prime minister.
On secessionist Anjouan, a military junta seized power in August 2001. Commander Mohamed Bacar declared himself head of state and was elected president in early 2002, with 70% of the vote. Mohamed Said Fazul was elected president of Mohéli.
In April 2002, the presidential election for the Union of Comoros was marred by violence. It was held on Grande Comoro as the island was granted the first turn of the union's rotating presidency under the new constitution. Assoumani won more than 80% of the vote, but the electoral commission cancelled the results as the two opposition candidates and the voters on Anjouan boycotted the vote.
Peaceful civilian transfer of power
From 2002, Assoumani governed as a civilian and there was relative stability. For the presidential election of May 2006 it was the turn of Anjouan to provide the union's president and Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, a moderate Sunni Muslim cleric who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, was elected president. Assoumani accepted the result and Comoros enjoyed its first-ever peaceful, democratic handover of power.
In June 2007, Col Bacar sought to hold a vote to extend his rule in Anjouan, but it was declared illegal by the union government and the OAU. In March 2008, troops from the OAU and Comoros invaded Anjouan and overthrew Bacar, who fled to the French Indian Ocean Territory of Mayotte. A number of rebels were killed in the fighting and 11 civilians injured.
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