December 14, 2018 / 8:36 AM / 9 months ago

Supporters of ex-al Shabaab leader clash with police in Somalia's Baidoa city, 11 dead

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - At least 11 people were killed in Somalia’s city of Baidoa in clashes between security forces and supporters of a former al Shabaab leader who is seeking election as a regional president, a military officer and an elder said on Friday.

Former al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow attends a news conference in Baidoa, Somalia November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Feisal Omar/File Photo

Authorities arrested Mukhtar Robow on Thursday, accusing him of bringing Islamist militants and weapons back to Baidoa, the capital of South West region where he is running for president.

Robow supporters angered by his arrest clashed with police backed by Ethiopian peacekeeping forces in Baidoa, said Hussein Aden, a military officer in the city.

Baidoa elder Saleh Isak accused the authorities of seeking to install their own candidate as president of South West, the first of Somalia’s seven semi-autonomous regions to hold presidential elections in the coming months.

“Yesterday 10 people died and today they killed a lawmaker,” Isak told Reuters by telephone.

Baidoa residents said the city had calmed down in the afternoon but was still tense, with most businesses staying closed and residents staying indoors.

“AMISOM’s (peacekeeping force) armored vehicles came into the town as a patrol. They just went back after they saw it was calm and that some residents blocked some of the roads with big stones,” one resident, Halima Mohamed, said from Baidoa on Friday.

The elections are a critical juncture in a growing power struggle between the U.S.-backed central government and regions where al Shabaab militants retain a presence following a long civil war.

Aden gave a lower death toll of at least six killed, among them lawmaker Abdishakur Bule.

“He died in cross fire between armed protesters and police this morning. Tension is high and we do not know what to do,” Aden told Reuters.

Robow was a prominent al Shabaab leader and group spokesman before he publicly renounced violence and recognized federal authority in August 2017.

His spokesman said he was beaten by Ethiopian troops, part of an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia, in the course of his arrest.

Officials in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa were not immediately reachable for comment.

Additional reporting by Feisal Omar in Mogadishu; Writing by George Obulutsa and Aaron Maasho; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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