Somali opposition fighters cordon off parts of capital

Personnel of the Somali military force supporting anti-government opposition leaders are stationed on a street in Mogadishu, Somalia, on April 25, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
Personnel of the Somali military force supporting anti-government opposition leaders are stationed on a street in Mogadishu, Somalia, on April 25, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
MOGADISHU, Somalia — Heavily-armed Somali opposition fighters held positions in parts of Mogadishu Monday, a day after clashes with government troops erupted over the president’s bid to extend his mandate, in the country’s worst political violence in years.اضافة اعلان

Fighters used mounds of earth to barricade roads, while armed men and vehicles mounted with machine guns were stationed in opposition strongholds.

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

The fragile nation has not had an effective central government since the collapse of a military regime in 1991 led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fuelled by clan conflicts.

For more than a decade, conflict has centered on an Islamist insurgency by the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab.

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

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

On Sunday night, sporadic bursts of heavy gunfire rang out across the capital after fighting broke out between government forces and soldiers allied -- mainly by all-important clan ties -- to the various opposition leaders.

The clashes — mainly in the northern neighborhoods of Sanca and Marinaya and the busy KM4 crossroads in the center — 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 soldiers supporting the opposition vowing to remove the president by force.

“Former president Farmajo is a dictator... he wants to stay in power with force, we are against that, we will continue fighting until he leaves,”
said military commander Abdulkadkir Mohamed Warsame, who backs former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire, one of the presidential candidates.

Warsame, who said the opposition was in control of the northern Hawle Wadag district, said “now we want to take over the presidency ... we will not stop our fighting, we can stop only when we die.”

‘Stop the fighting’

Some residents of the capital left 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,” Fadumo Ali, a resident of one of the tense neighborhoods told AFP.

Mogadishu residents urged both sides to stop fighting, and complained that electricity and water had been cut.

“We need both sides to stop the fighting, have sympathy with the children and elderly,” said Farah Hassan.

Witnesses elsewhere reported roads blocked by sand and logs.

“I saw several pickup trucks mounted with... weapons belonging to forces loyal to (previous president) Hassan Sheik Mohamud positioned along the main road leading to Marinaya,” said Ali Hassan, who lives in the northern Kaaraan district.  

“There is no fighting, but the government forces are also stationed a few blocks away.”  

Mohamud said Sunday that “forces loyal to” Farmajo had attacked his house, which the government denied.

The internal security ministry said security forces had foiled attacks by an “organized militia”.

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

Somalia’s Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble told a press conference Monday he was “disappointed with the violence aimed at destabilizing peace and stability in Mogadishu during the holy month of Ramadan.”

He urged security forces to “fulfil their national commitment and protect the stability of the people in Mogadishu.”

‘Violence is unacceptable’

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

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

Multiple rounds of talks failed to find a solution, and parliament pushed through the bill extending his mandate for two years.

Read more Region & World