MOGADISHU – Gunfire erupted in Somalia’s capital on Sunday between soldiers loyal to the government and others angry at the country’s leader as tensions spiked over President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s extended stay in power.
The gunfire heard across much of the city highlighted earlier warnings that the election standoff could increase instability in the Horn of Africa nation. The estimated hundreds of mutinous soldiers, still in uniform, took up key positions in northern Mogadishu as some residents hid.
Somalia's homeland security minister, Hassan Hundubey Jimale, expressed condolences to all victims but didn't say how many people had been killed or wounded. He accused “some people who are not interested in the security of their people” of launching an attack in Mogadishu and said security forces had repulsed them.
The president faces growing opposition in Somalia and abroad after the lower house of parliament approved a two-year extension of his mandate and that of the federal government and he OK'd it, to the fury of Senate leaders and vocal criticism from the international community. The African Union was the latest to condemn the actions.
Somalia’s election, meant for early February, has been delayed amid disputes between the federal government and the states of Puntland and Jubbaland along with the opposition.
“Tonight’s unacceptable violence is instigated and led by forces that want to send Somalia back to its dark past,” the federal government said in a statement. “Militia and foreign interference have combined to frighten the Somali people into submission.”
The soldiers were believed to have entered the city from military bases outside Mogadishu. Most of them belong to the clan of former presidents Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. Both have vowed to forcefully dislodge the president if he does not return to negotiations over the election delay or resign.
Mohamud in a tweet alleged that forces loyal to the president had attacked his house, adding that “I've warned and am now repeating how dangerous it is to politicize security. (Mohamed) will shoulder the responsibility of whatever happens as a result of this.”
Somalia's homeland security minister denied that.
“We cannot accept another Siad Barre,” one of the mutinous soldiers said, referring to the dictator whose toppling in 1991 led to three decades of conflict, first among warlords and then by the al-Shabab extremist group.
A few hundred demonstrators gathered on Sunday chanting “We don’t want dictatorship!” and burned the president’s photo.