MOGADISHU - Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Mogadishu and other major Somali cities on Wednesday, condemning those behind the massive explosion that killed nearly 300 people and wounded more than 400 others.
The Mogadishu protest came in response to a call from the city's mayor for a massive rally to pray for those killed and injured in Saturday's truck bombing, which the government blames on Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
Ahead of the rally, young men wearing red headbands forced businesses to shut down.
The demonstrators, chanting slogans such as "down with the enemy … down al-Shabab," later gathered at the city's Banadir soccer stadium, where the president and other leaders joined them.
Time to unite
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed urged Somalis to take up arms for what he called a tough war with al-Shabab.
"It is time for us to unite and I call for all Somalis to join hands together in the fight against the common enemy," he said.
He extended a similar invitation to political leaders. "I call for the politicians who have relationships with foreign countries to put our differences aside and join us in the fight against the militants," he said.
Mogadishu Mayor Taabit Abdi Mohamed said, "Somali people must be ready for a war to liberate this city."
From the stadium, the demonstrators marched to the scene of Saturday's blast to hold a memorial ceremony for the victims.
Other rallies took place Wednesday in Baidoa, Beledweyne and Dhusamareeb.
Still no claim
Al-Shabab has not claimed responsibility for Saturday's blast, the deadliest terrorist attack in Somalia's history.
Over the past 10 years, the group has bombed dozens of hotels, restaurants and other targets in Mogadishu, as part of its campaign to topple the government and install a strict version of Islamic law in Somalia.
Among those killed in the attack were Ahmed Abdikarin Eyow, a leader of the Somali community in Minnesota who helped organize a VOA Town Hall with then-President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud last year ago in Minneapolis, and freelance Somali cameraman Ali Nur Siad.
Siad was on assignment with Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulle, a stringer for VOA's Somali Service.
Abdulle was seriously wounded in the attack and airlifted to a Turkish hospital on Monday for treatment.
At the Vatican on Wednesday, Pope Francis prayed for the victims of the Mogadishu bombing, as well as for "the conversion of the violent," during his weekly audience in St. Peter's Square.
Former Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdurashid Ali Sharmarke told VOA's Somali Service that he welcomed the president's call for unity, saying, "I agree with the president. It is the time for us to unite against an enemy that does not discriminate us."
Djibouti President Ismaïl Omar Guelleh, in an audio message sent to VOA from his office, described the blast as barbaric and said it was the last signal of the militants' final defeat.
"According to the extent of the blast and what they have used for civilians, and the brutality it carried, I think it is a signal for their defeat," Guelleh said. "Once they realized that their end is coming, they are sending their last message, which is 'before you are finished kill as much as you can.' "
Hassan Qoyste contributed to this report.