Somali opposition fighters shield parts of Mogadishu when political feuds become violent

Heavily armed Somali opposition fighters held positions in parts of Mogadishu on Monday, a day after clashes with government forces erupted over the president’s attempt to extend his mandate, in the country’s worst political violence in years.

Fighters used mounds of earth to block roads, while armed men and vehicles mounted with machine guns were stationed in opposition strongholds after the fighting that left three dead.

“Both the Somali security forces and the opposition fighters have taken positions along some important roads,” witness Abdullahi Mire told AFP.

The fragile nation has not had an effective central government since a military regime collapsed in 1991 leading to decades of civil war and lawlessness driven by clan conflicts.

For more than a decade, the conflict has focused on an Islamist uprising of al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab.

The political clashes on the streets of Mogadishu mark a dangerous new phase in a dispute triggered by the failure to hold February scheduled elections.

President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, best known by his nickname Farmajo, earlier this month signed a law approved by parliament that extended his term by two years.

On Sunday night, sporadic gunfire erupted over the capital after fighting broke out between government forces and allied soldiers along clan lines to various opposition leaders.

Three people – two policemen and an opposition fighter – were killed in the clashes, police said on Monday.

Tensions remained high, with soldiers supporting the opposition promising to remove the president by force.

“Former President Farmajo is a dictator. for the Presidency.

“Now we want to take over the presidency,” Warsame said, adding that the opposition controlled the northern Hawle Wadag district.

“We will not stop fighting – we can only stop when we die.”

Increased clan divisions

The fighting had “sharpened” the clan divisions in the capital and set the stage for more violence in that direction, said Somalia analyst Omar Mahmood.

“Any kind of miscalculation can happen … it only takes one trigger-happy soldier to shoot on the other side, and it will blow up that dynamic,” the International Crisis Group senior analyst told AFP.

Some residents of tense neighborhoods had begun to leave their homes.

Former President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said on Sunday that “forces loyal to” Farmajo had attacked his house. The government denied this, saying security forces had repealed attacks by an “organized militia”.

While schools and universities were closed, life continued in some of the unaffected neighborhoods as usual.

Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble expressed disappointment on Monday over the violence during Ramadan and called on security forces to “fulfill their national commitment and protect” the people of Mogadishu.

‘Violence is unacceptable’

Farmajo’s four-year term expired in February before new elections could be held, leading to a constitutional crisis and opposition leaders refusing to recognize him.

The crisis stemmed from a long-running disagreement between Farmajo and the leaders of Puntland and Jubaland, two of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states, over how to conduct elections.

Several rounds of UN-backed talks failed to find a solution, and Parliament pushed through the bill to extend its mandate for two years.

The crisis has shocked Somalia’s foreign supporters, who have called on Farmajo to resume dialogue with federal states.

“The problem is that every time you have an outbreak of violence like this, it only widens the gap between the parties and makes it harder to reach some kind of agreement,” said Mahmood, the ICG analyst.

The British embassy and the European Union envoy to Mogadishu expressed concern over the violence, while the UN mission in Somalia tweeted that “violence is not the answer”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres added that he was “deeply concerned” about the clashes and called on “all Somali stakeholders to resume negotiations immediately”.

The US State Department also expressed concern, adding that it was “prepared to consider all available tools, including sanctions and visa restrictions”, to address the instability.

(REUTERS)

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