At least five people were killed Saturday in Mogadishu during violent demonstrations staged by hundreds of drivers, who took to the streets of the Somali capital to protest the killing of a driver of a tuktuk, or motorized rickshaw, as well as road closures that hinder the city's movement.
The protesters burned tires and chanted slogans against government security forces. Demanding justice and freedom for their businesses, they shouted, "Down with the civilian's killers!"
At least two protesters were wounded as security forces tried to disperse them, witnesses said.
It was not clear whether the demonstrators were shot by police trying to contain the violence or by private security guards from local firms and businesses trying to protect their properties.
Most of the protests occurred near the main Bakara market on the south side of the city, while just a few kilometers away, the country's parliament was debating the security situation in the capital.
Criticism of security forces
Opposition lawmaker Mahad Mohamed Salad, an outspoken government critic, accused the security forces of mishandling the protests and killing innocent civilians.
"A driver and a passenger and at least three other people who were protesting were killed by security forces. They were shot by the same security personnel who were meant to protect them," Salad said.
The last few years, motorized rickshaws have virtually monopolized public conveyance in the city because of their mobility and the fact Mogadishu's major roads have been closed by government soldiers to prevent al-Shabab car bombs.
Over the last three years, security forces have killed more than 20 tuktuk drivers in Mogadishu.
More than 20,000 young people directly or indirectly depend on the tuktuk business, said Mohamed Abdi, 19, a tuktuk driver. "If the government does not solve the challenges we face, our last resort might be forcing it in some way or another," he said.
Another protester, Ali Nur, 22, was among hundreds of Somali migrants who were repatriated to Mogadishu from Libya months ago. He said this business was the only opportunity available to him, although it is dangerous and even deadly.
"We constantly face soldiers holding their guns improperly, and sometimes they aim their guns at us," he said. "In several cases, they pull the trigger as they conduct security checks, killing an innocent tuktuk driver."
Promise of justice
To try to calm the protesters, Mogadishu Mayor Abdirahman Omar Osman promised the government would bring the killer to justice.
"We are very sorry for what has happened and we promise that we will bring the soldiers who carried out the shooting to justice, and the same time figure out how to facilitate your businesses without compromising security," the mayor said.
The Mogadishu drivers shared videos on social media that show their challenges, including government soldiers blocking the city's main roads, as well as other soldiers who they say extort money from them.
But Saturday's protests erupted after one such video showed a government soldier, who was manning one of the city's security checkpoints, fatally shooting a young driver and a passenger.
The reason for the shooting was still unclear, but in prior shootings, government security officials have accused the young drivers of ignoring soldiers' warnings and helping al-Shabab assassins to escape.