Gunfire erupted in Somalia’s capital on Sunday between soldiers loyal to the government and others angry at the country’s leader as tensions spike over President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed’s extended stay in power.
There were no reports of casualties, but 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. There was no immediate comment from the government.
The Horn of Africa country faces growing instability after the lower house of parliament approved a two-year extension of the president's mandate and that of the federal government, sparking the fury of Senate leaders and vocal criticism of the international community. The African Union was the latest to condemn the actions.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Mogadishu, chanting "we don't want a dictatorship." They also stamped on and set fire to images of President Mohamed.
"Today, we have gathered here to show our feelings towards the government extending its term and towards a dictator who wants to use force to stay in power. We thank the military forces who helped us demonstrate peacefully," said protester Abshir Shu’ayb.
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.
Mohamed in a tweet alleged that forces loyal to the president have 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.
“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, followed by a clan war, and then by the Al-Shabab extremist group, which still carries out a spate of attacks.
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.
Many fear a bigger increase in violence.
"Most of the people are in defiance of the government extending term limits, the president, whose term has finished, could lead the country into war," said Mogadishu resident Abdullahi Mahdi, who was at the protest.
"A peaceful demonstration is underway here now, the military is capturing new positions, the country could be taken back into civil war."