Security forces in Somalia’s capital have fired on hundreds of people protesting against the delay of the country’s election on Friday as at least one explosion was reported at the international airport and armoured personnel carriers blocked major streets.
A protest leader said “some have died” after the clashes.
The chaos in Mogadishu occurred hours after Somalia’s government and opposition leaders said gunfire erupted overnight near the presidential palace in a sharp escalation of political tensions in a country trying to rebuild after three decades of conflict.
Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is under pressure as the February 8th election date came and went without resolution of issues related to how the vote will be conducted in the Horn of Africa nation. Some Somalis are demanding that he step down.
The unrest is ripe for exploitation by the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group, which has threatened to attack the polls.
The Associated Press saw wounded protesters limping or being carried into a local hospital. People went into the streets despite the government banning public gatherings this week, citing a rise in Covid-19 cases.
Somali prime minister Mohamed Hussein Roble said he was “very sorry” about what happened and added that peaceful demonstrations are a constitutional right but armed ones are not.
The gunfire began shortly after a former prime minister and presidential candidate, Hassan Ali Khaire, began leading the peaceful march. He said shells fired against protesters landed inside the airport grounds.
“Some have died and others were wounded,” he said, without giving details.
As protesters scattered, some angry Somalis warned the president that retaliatory violence could occur.
“If this is what (the president) wants, he will get more of it because this is what we know best,” said one demonstrator, Mohamed Abdi Halane, a militia leader for one of Somalia’s powerful clans.
Another clan leader, Mohamed Ali Had, said “trying to suppress our views was what forced us to oust late dictator Siad Barre, which led to the destruction of the country” three decades ago.
The gunfire followed a confrontation overnight near the presidential palace.
Information minister Osman Dubbe said “armed militia” attacked a military post but was repulsed, but former president Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said the government had raided the hotel near the palace where he and another former president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, were staying ahead of the protest.
“The attack was ordered by the outgoing president,” Mr Ahmed said. Mr Mohamud accused the president of a “coup”.
The United Nations and others have urged Somali political leaders to solve their differences quickly. The UN on Friday said the new clashes “underscore the urgent need”, and the US Embassy said “we urge an end to all violence”. – AP