Authorities in the breakaway region of Somaliland say the death toll from clashes between police and opposition supporters this week has risen to five, with nearly 100 others injured. Despite the violence, opposition leader Abdirahman Irro said the protests will continue, raising activist fears of more casualties.
The president of Somaliland, Muse Bihi Abdi, said Thursday night that until further notice, anyone trying to hold violent protests and organize violence will be stopped and confronted. He said Thursday’s protest was the first in 30 years that the government authorized, and that protesters were told where to go when demonstrating but they didn’t recognize that, and it is a national treason to protest.
The president accused Irro, the leader of the main opposition Wadani party, of wanting to create a Sri Lanka-like protest to overthrow Abdi's government.
Thursday’s protests in the region’s main cities were called by opposition party leaders, demanding that elections be held as scheduled in November of this year.
At a news conference shared on Twitter, Irro vowed the protests will continue and said that security forces used "brutal" force and torture.
He said protesters were holding only signs, placards, and whistles while marching to express their feelings peacefully, but the government used all its power, including live bullets, poison, torture, imprisonment, intimidation, and obstruction of rights.
The leader of another opposition party, Faysal Ali Warabe, said after the clashes that the opposition will form a parallel interim government.
Warabe told VOA earlier on the phone that lawmakers’ constitutional terms have already expired and the people need to see the election held before November this year.
Human rights activists in Somaliland expressed concerns about the clashes and the election dispute, calling on the international community to intervene in the dispute between the two sides.
Ahmed Yusuf Hussien, a Somaliland-based human rights activist, told VOA that the situation has worsened since negotiations ended in failure.
"I want to send a call to the international community to intervene in the dialogue between the government and the opposition because previous negotiations that involved religious scholars, traditional elders and intellectuals were unfruitful," he said. "So, to avoid further failure, I call upon the international community to intervene.
The U.S. Embassy in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, urged the ruling party and opposition leaders in Somaliland to avoid violence during the demonstrations and return quickly to political dialogue.
In a short statement, the U.S. Embassy said failure to reach agreement on elections threatens Somaliland’s achievements in democratic governance.
Somaliland is a self-ruling region of northern Somalia that declared independence in 1991 but has not received recognition from the international community.