36 Dead in violence in Somalia’s Puntland and Lower Shabelle

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MOGADISHU, (Reuters) – At least 36 people died on Tuesday in violence across Somalia that involved heavy fighting in the semi-autonomous state of Puntland and bomb explosions in the country’s Lower Shabelle region, witnesses said.

In Puntland, heavy fighting broke out early Tuesday in the state capital Garowe as the local parliament debated changes to the voting system.

At least 26 people died in that fighting and 16 of those were soldiers, while 30 others were injured, Dr. Abdirsak Ahmed, who works at Garowe Public Hospital where some of the bodies were taken, told Reuters.

Three other witnesses described heavy fighting that erupted after opposition groups accused Puntland’s leader, Said Abdullahi Deni, of seeking constitutional changes that would extend his term in office beyond January next year, or help tip the ballot in his favour.

The Puntland government said on Facebook that the regional parliament had voted to consider amendments to the constitution, and that further debates and votes would take place.

Reuters was not immediately able to reach local or federal officials for comment on the violence in Puntland, which lies along the country’s northeast Indian Ocean coast.

“Fighting erupted immediately after the Puntland parliament voted for a one-man-one-vote election with multiple political parties,” local elder Farah Osman said. “The lawmakers are still in the house, and a heavy exchange of fire is rocking the town. It is a very fierce battle”.

“Garowe is full of opposing forces. All roads are closed, all business closed”, Osman added.

Another witness, Seinab Omar, a mother of three children, told Reuters she had seen at least two dead civilians and seven others who had bullet wounds. It was unclear whether the bodies and the injured victims Omar had seen were among those the doctor said had been brought to the hospital.

In separate violence in Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region at least ten people died after remote-controlled bombs exploded in Bariire village about 50 kilometres (31 miles) southwest of Somalia’s capital Mogadishu on Tuesday, residents and a soldier said.

“First a bomb exploded killing several civilians. Then many civilians and we the soldiers came to rescue victims from the first blast, when many people converged, the second remote bomb went off,” Nur Diriye, the soldier, told Reuters, adding the death toll may rise.

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