Somali government troops and opposition supporters have exchanged gunfire in Mogadishu in street clashes that broke out during a protest march over delayed elections.
- Some of the demonstrators against the government included Somali troops
- Sporadic shooting and rocket-propelled grenades were fired, residents say
- Somalia has endured a violent civil war since 1991
Demonstrators, including some Somali soldiers, said they had been attacked first by the government forces.
Residents reported sporadic shooting and said rocket-propelled grenades had also been fired.
The violence, which followed fighting overnight, had subsided by Friday afternoon (local time).
But it fuelled concerns that the military could split along clan lines.
It could also strengthen an Al Qaeda-linked insurgency, especially with hundreds of US troops having just pulled out of Somalia.
Somalia was due to select a new president on February 8, but the process was delayed after the opposition accused President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of packing regional and national electoral boards with supporters.
An opposition alliance says his term has expired and he is no longer president.
Mr Mohamed is from the powerful Darod clan, but most military units in and around the capital are from the Hawiye clan, which is heavily represented in the opposition alliance.
In Friday’s anti-government demonstration, opposition leaders marched with armed bodyguards.
Video showed civilians in facemasks — accompanied by friendly soldiers in red berets with ammunition belts wrapped around them — waving Somali flags before scattering when gunfire erupted.
Some soldiers took part in the fighting on the opposition side.
The Medina hospital said it had treated “a few” wounded people, but there was no information on casualties from four other public hospitals.
A captain at the military hospital said they had received three dead and 10 wounded from fighting the previous night.
The spillover of political rivalries into conflict will dismay Somalia’s allies and play into the hands of the Al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgency, which mounts attacks on civilians around East Africa in its bid to impose strict Islamic law.
“The military is dissolving and many troops seemingly reverting to clan loyalties,” said Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, who served for three years until 2019 as the commander of Somalia’s US-trained Danab unit.
Somalia has endured a bloody civil war since 1991, when armed clan warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre then turned on each other.
In recent years, internationally backed efforts have tried to mould militias into national forces under the control of the fledgling federal government, but loyalty to individual commanders and clans remains strong.