At least 15 people have been killed in Somalia and more than 30 others injured in two attacks just as the country’s indirect parliamentary elections enter their final stage.
In the central Somalia town of Beledweyne, a suicide bomber walked into a restaurant and blew himself up, killing at least 13 people and injuring at least 18 others, according to health and security officials. The restaurant was packed with local officials and politicians.
Witnesses said Beledweyne Deputy District Commissioner Abdirahman Kaynan is among the dead, while a regional lawmaker was among those wounded and is in critical condition.
The attack claimed by the al-Shabab militant group occurred on the eve of the first round of voting for 25 parliamentary seats in the Beledweyne constituency.
Among those vying for the seats is Fahad Yasin, the country’s former intelligence chief and the president’s national security adviser.
Yasin arrived in Beledweyne hours after Saturday’s deadly explosion and his seat is considered the most popular and influential in the country.
A VOA reporter in Beledweyne said security has been tightened throughout the city ahead of the Sunday election.
Meanwhile, in Somalia’s port town of Bossaso, an improvised explosive device blew up at a tea shop, killing two civilians and injuring 13 others, including soldiers. No claim of responsibility was made for the attack and security officials told VOA they are investigating.
Bossaso town is slated to hold a first round of voting for 15 parliamentary seats. The president of Somalia’s Puntland state, Said Deni, is expected to arrive Sunday in Bossaso.
The long-delayed indirect election in Somalia is due to be completed on February 25. The upper house concluded last year, while so far, 160 of the 275 members of parliament have been elected in the lower house.
Somalia leaders are under tremendous pressure from the U.S. and other supporters to wrap up elections, which now are behind schedule by more than a year.
In a statement Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Somalia called on leaders to complete the election in a “credible and transparent manner” by February 25, warning the U.S. will hold accountable those who “obstruct and undermine the process.”
Earlier this month, the United States announced a decision to bar current and former Somali officials and others accused of undermining the democratic process in Somalia from traveling to the U.S.
Hussein Hassan Dhaqane contributed to this story from Beledweyne, Somalia.