Somali opposition fighters cordon off parts of tense capital
Somali opposition fighters took up positions in parts of the tense capital on Monday, a day after clashes with government troops erupted over the president’s bid to extend his mandate.
Witnesses reported that armed men and vehicles mounted with machine guns were stationed in opposition strongholds, while key roads in Mogadishu were blocked.
“Both the Somali security forces and the pro-opposition fighters have taken positions along some key roads, there is civilian transport movement but, in some areas, they are not allowing anyone to move,” witness Abdullahi Mire told AFP.
Somalia, recovering from decades of civil war, is facing its worst political crisis in recent years after the failure to hold planned elections in February.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, best known by his nickname Farmajo, has faced harsh criticism at home and from foreign allies after signing a law earlier this month extending his mandate by two years.
On Sunday night, sporadic gunfire rang out across the capital after fighting broke out between government forces and those allied to various opposition leaders.
The clashes — mainly in the northern neighbourhoods of Sanca and Marinaya and the busy KM4 crossroads in the centre — began after dozens of opposition supporters marched in protest against Farmajo’s term extension.
There were no immediate reports of casualties.
Tensions remained high on Monday, with some people trying to leave their homes in tense neighbourhoods.
“People are starting to flee from Bermudo area where the pro-opposition fighters have taken positions last night, the situation is tense and there can be an armed confrontation anytime if the situation remain the same,” Fadumo Ali, a resident of one of the tense neighbourhoods told AFP.
“Some families have already left last night when the fighting broke out… we don’t know how things will turn to be in the coming few hours but now it is calm and there is no fighting,” said another resident, Feysal Hassan.
While schools and universities were closed, life in some of the unaffected neighbourhoods proceeded much as usual.
The crisis in Somalia has led to increasing dismay from the country’s foreign backers, who have called on Farmajo to return to dialogue with leaders of the country’s five federal states over the holding of elections.
“Highly concerned about the ongoing events in Mogadishu,” European Union envoy Nicolas Berlanga said on Twitter Sunday.
“The general interest requests maximum restraint, preserve institutions that belong to all and dialogue. Violence is unacceptable. Those responsible will be held accountable.”
Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble told a press conference Monday he was “disappointed with the violence aimed at destabilising peace and stability in Mogadishu during the holy month of Ramadan”.
He urged security forces to “fulfill their national commitment and protect the stability of the people in Mogadishu”.
Fighting has broken out in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, between different sections of the security forces.
Reports said heavy weapons were used and mortar rounds were fired near the presidential palace.
Some of the military units support President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed while others are opposed to him.
Last week Mr Mohamed – known as Farmajo – controversially approved a two-year extension of his term in office. His mandate officially ended in February.
The move was strongly criticised by the international community including the UN and the African Union.
Reports from Mogadishu on Sunday said what started as localised clashes spread to other parts of the city including central areas.
Local media said the fighting was between pro-government forces and military units that support the opposition, but some former warlords and clan leaders are also involved in the clashes.
It was not clear if there were casualties.
Caasimada Online, a privately owned website, said anti-government protesters had taken to the streets, burning tyres, and rebel soldiers had seized control in parts of north Mogadishu.
The protesters reportedly chanted: “We do not want a term extension. We do not want Farmajo. We do not want dictatorship.”
Former Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and opposition leader Abdirahman Abdishakur said pro-government soldiers had attacked their homes.
In a post on Twitter, Mr Abdishakur said the opposition had “warned against politicising the military”.
Later on Sunday, Somali security minister Hassan Hundubey Jimale accused unnamed foreign countries of being behind the violence.
In a televised statement, he said organised militia groups had been sent to Mogadishu to create chaos, and that security forces had now dealt with them.
“People who do not care for their people and country have organised militias, refused to listen to peace overtures and attacked Mogadishu today,” the minister said. “Security forces ended the militia attack [by force] after attempts to defuse the situation peacefully failed.”
Somalia has been torn by conflict for decades but had been moving towards stability since 2012 when a new internationally backed government was installed.
However, delayed elections following the end of President Mohamed’s mandate in February have thrown the country into renewed chaos. Some international donors have also pulled out, causing a cash crunch for the government.
Somali elections are conducted under a complex indirect system where clan elders select MPs, who in turn choose the president.
But this time there have been regional squabbles over how power is distributed – and a row over a new election commission.
The UN Security Council said on Friday that the political deadlock was diverting attention from serious problems including the pandemic, a locust invasion and Islamist militancy.