Angry protests after Somalia arrests militant-politician

A general view shows a street in the southern city of Baidoa, Somalia, in this Nov. 3, 2018 file photo. — Reuters

MOGADISHU — Demonstrators took to the streets of Baidoa in southwest Somalia for a second day on Friday protesting the arrest of a former militant leader who was vying for the regional presidency.

Tires burned, roads were blocked and shots fired as police tried to break up crowds of hundreds of angry protesters in the city where regional presidential elections are due to be held on Dec. 19.

Muktar Robow, who defected from the militant Al-Shabaab movement last year, was detained by the government on Thursday, accused of “organizing a militia” and seeking to “undermine stability”, and flown to the capital Mogadishu.

Demonstrations erupted immediately after his arrest and resumed on Friday.

“The situation is tense, and the demonstrations are getting bigger,” said Baidoa resident Adaf Mumin. “There is still gunfire by the police who are trying to disperse the crowds. The whole city is in chaos.”

Some protesters waved posters of Robow and burned images of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed whom they accuse of meddling in federal state affairs.

Abdulkadir Shekhuna, acting Southwest State regional president, said, “Those demonstrating are small in number and are against stability. We have instructed police to restore law and order.”

Police fired warning shots, with some witnesses claiming live rounds were also used.

During the clashes, a regional MP was killed in uncertain circumstances.

“I cannot confirm how he died, but there was a local legislator killed this morning as some violent demonstrators were blocking roads,” said police officer Mohamednur Adan.

But he said the police were “in control”.

Robow’s run for office has exposed the tensions between Somalia’s federal states, which want greater autonomy from a national administration keen to safeguard its central powers.

Robow defected from the Al-Shabaab, a group he helped found, in August 2017, years after splitting with its then leader Ahmed Abdi Godane.

Robow is popular in his clan heartland of southwest Somalia where some see him as the best option for defending regional interests and defeating his former comrades. — AFP