Clashes between security forces and protesters in the Somaliland region over an alleged attempt to delay the presidential elections have turned deadly, according to a regional leader and a senior police official in Somalia’s breakaway region.
At least five people have been killed and 100 more injured, Muse Bihi Abdi, the president of Somaliland said in a Facebook post late on Thursday.
Abdi Hassan Mire, the deputy commander of the Somaliland police, said dozens of security personnel were injured during the clashes with protesters who were armed with knives, catapults and clubs. Some carried weapons and fired bullets, he said.
Property and vehicles were also destroyed, according to police.
The president’s current term ends in November but the opposition suspects Abdi wants to delay that election and accuse him of seeking an extension of his term through “Guurti”, a council of elders that acts as the de facto parliament in Somaliland.
Abdi, the president, did not say whether those killed were civilians or security personnel.
“We shall not allow chaos and demonstration in any town or in any village. They will be confronted. Unauthorised violent demonstration to destroy the nation will not be accepted.”
At least 100 people suspected of involvement in the clashes were arrested and will be charged soon, Ibrahim Abdi Haji, the head of operations in Somaliland Police, told the Reuters news agency.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in the capital Hargeisa and the cities of Burao and Erigavo after negotiations between the government and opposition parties broke down, with the latter accusing the authorities of seeking to delay the election.
Protesters carried placards saying “Hold the election on 13th November 2022” and chanted anti-government slogans.
In a news conference late on Thursday, Abdirahman Mohamed Abdullahi, the leader of the main opposition Waddani party, accused the government of committing “atrocities” against the protesters.
“This was a peaceful demonstration and we have led people who carried only placards and whistles, but the government has committed violations by using excessive power, live bullets, tear gas,” he said at the press conference in Hargeisa.
“Peace can only prevail in Somaliland with the provision of fair and free elections, let those who defend democracy prevail.”
Abdirahman Cirro, a presidential hopeful and former head of Waddani, put the death toll at six, according to the Reuters news agency.
“The demos will continue and it is just the beginning until we get full democratic space and freedom from dictatorship and bad leadership,” he said.
One protest organiser, Ahmed Ismail, told the AFP news agency that three people including a woman were killed in Hargeisa, and 34 others were admitted to hospital.
In a statement on Thursday six foreign diplomatic missions, including the US, UK and European Union, condemned what they called “excessive use of force” during the demonstrations.
Statement from international partners on the current situation in Somaliland pic.twitter.com/eaj9E9aFjJ
— France in Somalia (@FranceinSomalia) August 12, 2022
“We call upon all sides to ensure that both the demonstrations and police response are peaceful and follow the rule of law,” the statement said.
“We reiterate the need for all sides in Somaliland to engage in constructive dialogue in order to reach consensus on a roadmap for elections. Somaliland’s leaders must work together with its people to decide their future and protect Somaliland’s peace, stability and democracy.”
Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 but has not gained widespread international recognition for its independence. The region has been mostly peaceful while Somalia has grappled with 30 years of civil war.