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Somalia’s president calls for election, pulling country back from brink of civil war for now

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A bonfire is set on a street during a protest against President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in Mogadishu, Somalia, on April 25, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Somalia's President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed (Farmajo) has called for a presidential election and a return to dialog, dropping his controversial decision to extend his own mandate and pulling the country back from the brink of civil strife for the moment.

In a televised statement early on Wednesday, the president called on all political parties in Somalia to hold "urgent discussions" on how to conduct the vote, adding that he would appear before parliament on Saturday to "gain their endorsement for the electoral process."

"As we have repeatedly stated, we have always been ready to implement timely and peaceful elections in the country," he said. "But unfortunately, our efforts were hampered by individuals and foreign entities who have no aim other than to destabilize the country and take it back to the era of division and destruction in order to create a constitutional vacuum."

The dispute over Farmajo's extension of his term had taken on increasingly violent forms in recent days. Armed militia, having reportedly defected to the opposition, entered the capital, Mogadishu, and took up positions there on Sunday. A day later, they engaged in skirmishes with government forces, and at least three people were killed.

Civilians in flashpoint neighborhoods had to evacuate, leaving their houses and much of their belongings behind.

Tensions first erupted in February, when Abdullahi Mohamed's term expired, and he and the leaders of the country's two regional states failed to agree on how to conduct elections. A deal had been cobbled together in September last year, which later collapsed, and multiple rounds of United Nations (UN)-backed talks failed to broker a way forward.

The president then signed into law a contentious bill passed by the lower house of the parliament that extended his term for two more years. The Senate rejected the move.

The extension was also rejected by Somalia's Western backers, who urged Mohamed to return to the negotiating table and threatened to impose sanctions if he did not.

Earlier on Wednesday, Somalia's Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble had denounced the proposed term extension, calling for preparations for a new presidential election.

During his speech, the president said he commended the efforts of the prime minister and other political leaders and welcomed the statements they had issued calling for an election to be held without further delay.

The leaders of the two regional states said in statements immediately after the president's speech that they welcomed his announcement, in a sign that an armed conflict was ruled out for the time being.

The clashes that broke out between the government troops and the opposition militia in the capital over the weekend fueled worries that the country could return to all-out war.

The president urged "all security agencies to maintain the stability of the capital and the safety of innocent civilians, avoiding any actions that may lead to insecurity."

Analysts had earlier warned that Somali security forces could be splintered along clan lines as a result of the political crisis.


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