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Somalia National Theater Reopens After 20 Years of Silence

Residents gather outside the reopened National Theater in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, March 19, 2012. In the roofless, bullet-ridden building that houses Mogadishu's National Theater, Somali musicians staged a concert for the first time in 20 years, a si
Residents gather outside the reopened National Theater in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, March 19, 2012. In the roofless, bullet-ridden building that houses Mogadishu's National Theater, Somali musicians staged a concert for the first time in 20 years, a si

Somali officials have reopened the country's national theater after more than 20 years, despite continuing attacks by the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.

The venue formally opened Monday in the capital city Mogadishu, with hundreds gathering under an open roof destroyed during the country's civil war.

Colorfully dressed artists performed during a televised concert, which was attended by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, government officials and regular Somali citizens.

The president praised the bravery of the artists.

"The artists have the power to reflect and convey the feelings of their people in words, in pictures and in performance, as we have witnessed today," he said.

Ahmed also vowed to refurbish the worn building with the help of aid groups.

The president credited recent security gains in Mogadishu for the theater's re-opening. Somali government forces and African Union troops pushed al-Shabab rebels out of the city last year.

Just hours earlier, however, the insurgents fired mortars near the presidential palace.

The al-Qaida-aligned insurgents have vowed to continue attacks in Mogadishu and still dominate much of central and southern Somalia.

The Somali National Theater's director, artist Abdi Dhuh Yusuf, challenged political leaders to revive the country's arts and culture.

“When are the vile acts going to get washed-off from the theater? When are you going to dress it properly and refurbish it? It is an open question," said Yusuf.

Many young Somalis, like Murayo Ahmed Aden, have never seen a concert or have had access to a functioning theater.

“I was too young to watch concerts at the national theater in the old days. Despite the destruction, I am glad to have performed today inside the national theater," said Aden.

Somalia is currently run by a fragile transitional government backed by the United Nations. The Horn of Africa country has not had a stable government since 1991.

“The artists have the power to reflect and convey the feelings of their people in words, in pictures and in performance as we have witnessed today,” said Ahmed.

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