Djibouti president, 73, returns home after hospitalisation rumours

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Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh has returned home to the Horn of Africa country, his office said Sunday, after rumours that the 73-year-old had been hospitalised in Paris.  (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh has returned home to the Horn of Africa country, his office said Sunday, after rumours that the 73-year-old had been hospitalised in Paris. (Photo by Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh has returned home to the Horn of Africa country, his office said Sunday, after rumours that the 73-year-old had been hospitalised in Paris.

Re-elected for a fifth term in April, Guelleh has ruled Djibouti since 1999 and has used his country's unique geographical position to lure investors and foreign military powers, all while keeping an iron grip on power.

Hours after rumours began to circulate on social media last Monday that Guelleh had flown to Paris and checked into a hospital, Foreign Minister Mahmoud Ali Youssouf issued a series of tweets saying the reports were incorrect.

"All the information circulating on the networks is poison spread to disturb our fellow citizens," Youssouf wrote.

The prime minister and the government spokesman both said Guelleh was taking a break because of "overwork".

Sunday's statement said Geulleh had returned from a "private visit to France", Djibouti's former colonial power.

The president's Twitter account posted images of Guelleh leaving his plane.

Guelleh seized on Djibouti's unique geographic location on the Red Sea to develop the tiny, arid nation of one million people into a reliable international military and maritime hub.

READ | Friends, foes and fractures: Ethiopia in the Horn of Africa

It hosts military bases for global powers including France, the United States, Japan and China.

The third-smallest country by area on the African mainland, and sandwiched between volatile neighbours, Djibouti embarked on an infrastructure blitz, courting major investment in its quest to become the "Dubai of Africa".

Despite a plethora of projects, however, many Djiboutians still live in grinding poverty.

Guelleh's government has also been accused by rights groups of cracking down on dissent, limiting free speech and suppressing opposition parties.

With an age cap prohibiting him from running a sixth time, Guelleh is expected to anoint a successor from within his own trusted circle, in much the same fashion as his own appointment.

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