Heavy fighting erupted in Garowe, capital of Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland, on Tuesday morning as the local parliament began debating changes to the voting system, four witnesses said.
The Puntland government said on Facebook the regional parliament had voted in favour of considering amendments to the constitution, and further debates and votes would take place.
No details about any casualties have emerged yet.
“Fighting erupted immediately after Puntland parliament voted for a one-man-one-vote election with multiple political parties. The lawmakers are still in the house, and heavy exchange of fire is rocking the town. It is a very fierce battle,” local elder Farah Osman said.
“Garowe is full of opposing forces. All roads are closed, all business closed,” Osman said.
The clashes broke out 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.
There has been no comment yet on the situation from the Somalian government in Mogadishu.
“Anti-aircraft guns and machine guns are raining down around Garowe today. Government forces and other troops and clan militias loyal to opposition politicians are fighting over politics. I closed my shop and ran home,” said shopkeeper Abdullahi Omar.
Puntland is one of a number of autonomous and semi-autonomous regions in Somalia, where no central authority has fully controlled the entire territory for decades. Clan rivalries and lingering grouses due to colonial legacies have also exacerbated political divisions.
Somaliland, the nearby autonomous region that seceded from Somalia in 1991, is disputing ownership of the city of Las Anod, which the Dhulbahante clan of Puntland claims as its capital. Since February 6 when fighting began in the city, over 300 people have died and more than 200,000 have been displaced.