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Djibouti incumbent president re-elected in landslide win

Ismail Omar Guelleh has won a fourth term as Djibouti's president with an overwhelming majority. Some opposition parties have boycotted the elections, while rights groups have decried crackdowns on basic freedoms.

Voters in the strategic African nation of Djibouti

re-elected President Ismail Omar Guelleh

for a fourth five-year term on Saturday, the Interior Ministry announced.

"The people of Djibouti have again entrusted me with the state's highest office," Guelleh, 68, said in a speech on national TV. "I have understood their hopes and will get back to work tomorrow."

Guelleh won 86.68 percent of the ballots, Interior Minister Hassan Omar reported, while the opposition coalition candidate Omar Elmi Khaireh came in second place with 7 percent.

One-fourth of the former French colony's population was eligible to vote in Friday's poll, with 133,356 votes cast and some 3,844 ballots declared invalid.

Three of the seven opposition parties called for a boycott prior to the election, but voter turnout was still reported to be 68 percent.

Rights crackdowns in Djibouti

Candidates

within the fractured opposition in Djibouti

claimed that their representatives were turned away from a number of polling stations on Friday.

"We demand that the government fix this and organize transparent, free, fair and just elections," independent candidate Jama Abderahaman Djama told news agency AFP.

Ahead of the vote, the opposition also criticized restrictions on freedom of assembly, while rights groups have accused the government of arbitrary arrests, torture and crackdowns on basic freedoms.

This week, a BBC team was detained, interrogated and subsequently expelled from the country after interviewing an opposition leader.

Numerous observers attributed Guelleh's long-lasting hold on power within the Horn of Africa nation to a divided opposition

as well as government repression of dissent.

Violence had broken out in 2013 after the opposition accused the government of rigging a parliamentary election, followed by a crackdown on protesters.

A 'strategic prize'

Guelleh has led the Horn of Africa nation since 1999 and oversaw an age of economic growth and development.

Djibouti hosts thousands of foreign troops on US and French military bases and has launched major infrastructure projects to turn its bustling port into a regional hub for trade.

"A growing number of foreign militaries have a presence in Djibouti: France, US, Japan, Germany, Italy, Spain, Ethiopia, Russia and most recently China and Saudi Arabia," said Ben Payton from the risk consultant Verisk Maplecroft.

"Djibouti's status as a coveted strategic prize, and its growing ties with China, means that the US and other Western countries are likely to be muted in their criticism of any electoral irregularities," Payton said.

rs/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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