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Bowing to Pressure, Somalia's President Agrees Not to Extend Presidential Term

Residents ride in rickshaws as they flee following renewed clashes between rival factions in the security forces, who have split in a dispute over an extension to the president's term in Hodan district of Mogadishu, Somalia, April 27, 2021.

Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said on Wednesday he would drop an attempt to extend his term by two years, bowing to domestic and international pressure after clashes in the capital Mogadishu split security forces along clan lines.

Hours earlier, Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble had denounced the proposed term extension and called for preparations for a new presidential election.

The president's term expired in February, but the country failed to hold elections as planned. Earlier this month, the lower house of parliament voted to extend Mohamed's four-year term by another two years. The Senate rejected the move, provoking a political crisis.

Police, military leaders defect

Commanders in both the police and the military had defected to the opposition, and rival factions of the security forces had fortified positions in central Mogadishu, raising fears of clashes in the heart of the city, and a security vacuum in the surrounding areas that could be exploited by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab insurgents.

FILE - Somalia's newly-elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo addresses lawmakers after winning the vote at the airport in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, Feb. 8, 2017.
FILE - Somalia's newly-elected President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo addresses lawmakers after winning the vote at the airport in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, Feb. 8, 2017.

In a televised statement in the early hours of Wednesday, the president said he commended the efforts of the prime minister and other political leaders and welcomed the statements they issued calling for elections to be held without further delay. He also called for urgent discussions with the signatories to an agreement signed last September on the conduct of the elections.

The opposition, who had called on the president to resign, did not immediately respond. The president did not discuss the opposition in his speech but did denounce unnamed "individuals and foreign entities who have no aim other than to destabilize the country."

The heads of two regional states who had been staunch allies of the president had also rejected on Tuesday the proposed two-year extension of Mohamed's term. Those leaders said in statements immediately after the president's speech that they welcomed his announcement.

Mohamed's attempt to extend his term had also angered foreign donors who backed his government, hoping it would help bring stability and quash the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab insurgency. But the proposed extension pitted factions in the security forces against each other.

The U.S. Embassy in Mogadishu tweeted support for the prime minister and the two state presidents after they issued their statement.

This week, opposition forces abandoned positions in the countryside as they headed for a showdown in the capital, allowing al-Shabab to take over at least one town.

Forces loyal to the opposition hold important parts of the city and clashed with government forces over the weekend, fueling worries the country could return to all-out war.

'Teetering on the brink'

The unrest is the second bout of violence in Mogadishu over an extension to Mohamed's term. Continued clashes could further splinter Somali security forces along ethnic lines, said the International Crisis Group, a think tank.

"Somalia is teetering on the brink of a major breakdown once again," it said in a briefing published on Tuesday.

Mohamed is Darod, one of Somalia's major clans. Most of the Somali military in the capital are Hawiye, another large clan. Most of the opposition leaders are Hawiye.

Earlier on Tuesday, Turkish-trained Haramcad ("Cheetah") police forces raided the independent Mustaqbal Radio station, owned by a Hawiye businessman, and confiscated equipment. Somalia's fledgling armed forces are drawn from clan militias who have often battled each other for power and resources.

Internal Security Minister Hassan Hundubey Jimale told a news conference that government forces had been restrained to avoid harming civilians. He also said, without providing evidence, that "thieves" were breaking into houses and killing people.

The African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, the United Nations mission there, and a dozen other mainly African and Western nations condemned the outbreak of violence and urged restraint.

"We are alarmed especially by the emerging fragmentation of the Somali National Army (SNA) along clan lines," a joint statement said.