An armoured personnel carrier (APC) is seen on a sealed off street during fighting
An armoured personnel carrier (APC) is seen on a sealed off street during fighting between Somali government forces and opposition troops over delayed elections in Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 19, 2021.

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA - Gunfire erupted in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, Friday morning after security forces cut off a planned opposition protest. The opposition is in a standoff with President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo over the election process and has been calling for him to leave office since February 8, when they say his term officially expired.  

Opposition leaders have accused the government of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo of using disproportionate force to halt a peaceful protest that was planned for Friday.

Heavily armed Somali military police, popularly known as Harmacad or Cheetah, cordoned off all the roads leading to the demonstration site Friday morning.  

They then exchanged gunfire with guards of opposition candidates in a hotel near the location of the planned rally.

Former prime minister Hassan Ali Khaire, who is a main candidate in upcoming presidential elections, witnessed the gunfire.

He said security agencies fired live bullets at opposition leaders and protesters.  He said that the heavy arsenal used resulted in unspecified loss of life and damages to property including some from a mortar that hit the main airport.

Somali Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble described the incident as unfortunate but reiterated his administration will not tolerate armed protesters in the streets.

He said the government is ready to address the disputes holding up the polls. 

Roble says his government is ready to listen to grievances from all sides regarding the delayed elections.  He added that while peaceful demonstrations are guaranteed by the constitution, the role of security agencies in maintaining law and order must also be respected.

Somali people gather on the street during fighting between Somali government forces and opposition troops over delayed elections in Mogadishu, Somalia, Feb. 19, 2021.

Parliamentary and presidential elections were supposed to begin late last year but have been delayed by disputes over the electoral committee tasked with overseeing the polls.

While the two sides remain at loggerheads, analysts warn of a possible escalation unless the sides sit down and negotiate an end to the standoff.

Professor Mohamed Hajji Ingris of Kings College of London recommended the government and opposition de-escalate the tension as quickly as possible. 

“There is a high risk that the ongoing armed confrontations in Mogadishu can pit the government forces against the fighters of the opposition groups along clan lines," Ingris said.  "The armed conflict will most likely have strengthened the capabilities and capacity of al-Shabab to increase its attacks in Mogadishu.  My suggestions are that for the government to cease the attempt to crackdown on dissent through forceful steps and my suggestion to the opposition groups are that to end their call for protests in Mogadishu.”

The international community, including United States, has also called for calm and restraint by all parties involved.