Islands have 19th coup in 25 years

THE ARMY of the Comoro Islands overthrew the civilian government of President Tadjiddine Ben Said Massonde yesterday in a bloodless coup.

Last weekend President Tadjiddine's government had granted greater autonomy to the two smaller islands of Anjouan and Moheli. The government's move triggered three days of violent protests on the main island, Grande Comoro, led by opposition politicians.

"The national army of development decided to intervene in order to prevent the country from plunging into chaos; in order to preserve the traditional links uniting all the citizens of our country," an army spokesman, Captain Rachad Abdallah, said on state radio. Captain Abdallah, speaking on behalf of Colonel Azaly Assoumani, the army chief of staff, said the constitution, parliament and high court had been suspended. There have been 18 coups or attempted coups since 1975.

President Tadjiddine took over as interim president last November after his predecessor Mohamed Taki died suddenly. Yesterday, he was at his house surrounded by members of the presidential guard.

A South African foreign affairs spokesman, Marco Boni, said: "We condemn the action ... after much progress was made at a conference in Madagascar last week."