Thousands of Comorans gather in the capital to pay tribute to the 152 people who perished in a Yemenia airlines plane crash.
Thousands gather to mourn in Comoran capital
Thousands of Comorans gathered Monday in the capital Moroni to pay tribute to the 152 people who perished in a Yemenia airlines plane crash off the island's coast last week. Prayers replaced the Indian Ocean archipelago's July 6 independence day celebrations. Many of the passengers in the downed Airbus craft were Comorans heading home for summer break often marked with family and wedding celebrations.
"Instead of being a day of happy reunion, it has come to be a day in the national mourning (period)," Ismail Shafi, a top foreign affairs official, told the crowd. Only one passenger, a 12-year-old girl, survived the June 30 disaster, which happened as the aircraft tried to land at Moroni airport. The president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, who has declared a month of national mourning, honoured Libounah Maturaffi, a navy officer who rescued Bahia Bakari from the sea several hours after the accident.
"You saved someone else's life at the risk of losing yours," said Mr Sambi, saluting the officer's courage. But the president spoke little of the disaster, quickly turning to the row between the three-island Union of Comoros and former colonial power France over the French isle of Mayotte. At independence, Mayotte, which is part of a four-island archipelago made up of Grande Comores, Anjouan and Moheli, voted in the July 6, 1975 referendum to remain part of France while the rest opted for independence.
The union government has always maintained that Mayotte belongs to the Comoros and not France. "France is a friend, but not a brother," said Mr Sambi. "Our friendship with France does not stop us from claiming Mayotte." "The presence of France in Mayotte cannot be legal without our agreement. We cannot accept to lend Mayotte to France for lease period of say 50 years. "We should be proud today that our country has been governed by Comorans since 1975," he added.