Somali opposition fighters ‘cordon off parts of Mogadishu’

Witnesses report movement of armed men a day after clashes with government troops over president’s bid to extend his mandate.

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 [File: Feisal Omar/Reuters]

Somali opposition fighters have taken up positions in parts of the capital Mogadishu 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 on Monday, while key roads in the capital 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 news agency.

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 Farmaajo, 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 Farmaajo’s term extension.

There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Reporting from Nairobi, Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi said that although the opposition forces have held their positions in the capital, there was no active engagement on Monday morning.

“There appears to be a lot of shuttle diplomacy as nobody is keen on an outright war,” said Soi. “Diplomats are trying to get the opposing sides to the negotiating table, saying that they must de-escalate tensions. Everyone is calling for calm.”

Potential escalation

Somalia, which plunged into war and chaos in 1991, has been struggling to re-establish the authority of the central government and rebuild the nation, with international help. The failure to hold the February elections sparked a new crisis.

Tension remained high on Monday, with some people trying to leave their homes in affected neighbourhoods.

“People are starting to flee from Bermudo area where the pro-opposition fighters took up positions last night, the situation is tense and there can be an armed confrontation anytime if the situation remains 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 caused increasing dismay from the country’s foreign backers, who have called on Farmaajo 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 tweeted on 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 on Monday that 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 “fulfil their national commitment and protect the stability of the people in Mogadishu”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies