South West gripped by deadly riots in Baidoa over abrupt arrest of Robow

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At least 10 people were killed on Thursday as violent riots broke out in Baidoa, south of Somalia following the sudden arrest of a leading presidential candidate.

Thousands of local residents rioted to protest against the detention of Mukhtar Robow, former Al-Shabaab deputy leader and spokesman who was running for Southwest State president in Dec 19 polls.

An official told MOL that a heavy gunfight erupted in the city after Robow’s loyalists attacked Ethiopian troops shortly after arresting Robow at the request of the Federal Government of Somalia in Mogadishu.

Ethiopian soldiers are among the dead, said the official spoke Thursday night on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

“The phone lines are cut off as sounds of gunfire and violent demonstration is reportedly staged by residents to demanding for his release,” he added.

The arrest unfolded at around 11:00 a.m. local time on Tuesday c angry residents, as part of their protest, blocked the roads and set car tyres ablaze. Their action caused a gridlock and tension.

Robow’s arrest is seen as a preemptive strike to prevent his inevitable win of the upcoming presidential election due to be held next week as two government-backed candidates are among the contenders.

In a statement, Somalia’s Ministry of Internal Security has since confirmed his detention of the candidate, accusing him of violating the previous agreement and mobilizing forces threat to the security.

While Southwest state election commision cleared his candidacy, the central government has announced Robow cannot run for public office because he remains under international sanction.

The comments came after Robow was flown from Baidoa to Mogadishu and arrested in a custody run by the National Intelligence and Security Agency [NISA], according to sources within the security ministry.

Robow, 49, left Al-Shabaab in 2013 after a fallout with group’s leader Ahmed Abdi Godan, and then went into hiding protected by his own loyal militia, until announcing his decision to defect to Somalia government in August 2017.