Interior Minister Abd al-Qadir Doualeh Waiss said on Wednesday that although others could have registered to run, Guelleh was the only candidate to submit papers to stand in the 8 April election.

"All candidates wanting to participate in the presidential elections, including independents, had 10 days from Sunday, 27 February 2005, until midnight Tuesday, 8 March 2005, to deposit their papers," he said.

"Only his excellency, the president of the republic and chief of government, Ismail Umar Guelleh, presented himself on 7 March 2005 at 11am. We have not recorded candidates from any other party or independents."

Despite the fact that Guelleh, the leader of the People's Progress Rally party who has ruled Djibouti since 1999, will be the only candidate, "the presidential elections will be held as scheduled on Friday, 8 April 2005".

Serious shortcomings

Djibouti, strategically located at the southern end of the Red Sea on the Gulf of Aden, is a key part of the maritime link from Mediterranean and the Suez Canal in the north to the Indian Ocean.

It is home to the largest overseas French military base and the only US military base in Africa, and in recent years has become a hub for international anti-terrorism efforts.

Strategically located Djibouti is
home to French and US bases

However, Djibouti's record on democracy has frequently been criticised, most recently last month when the United States pointed out serious shortcomings in conditions there.

"The government's human-rights record remained poor and it continued to commit serious abuses," the State Department said of Djibouti in its annual human-rights report.

"The government limited citizens' rights to change their government," it said.

In January 2003, Guelleh's Union for a Presidential Majority (UMP) coalition won all 65 seats in Djibouti's parliament in polls that opposition parties denounced as rigged. The government denied the allegations.