Protests turned violent in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on Friday when demonstrators took to the streets to march against delayed elections, and security forces loyal to the government and armed guards protecting the opposition exchanged fire.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo's four-year term expired on 8 February without a way forward for an election, throwing the country into a political crisis. Opposition parties have called for the formation of a transitional government in the interim.
On Wednesday, the federal government suspended public gatherings citing a rise in Covid-19 cases. The ban was ignored by opposition parties, who were seen marching on the street with masks and placards in a video uploaded to social media, before gunfire erupted.
Hours before the clashes with demonstrators, a hotel near to the Presidential Palace where a former prime minister and president and leaders of the opposition were staying came under heavy gunfire.
The second round of gunfire began shortly after Hassan Ali Khaire, the former prime minister, began leading the protest march. Mr Khaire in a statement claimed that shells fired against the protesters landed inside the airport grounds.
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, Farmajo's predecessor, blamed the government for "shedding the blood of citizens" preparing for peaceful demonstrations.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia on Friday said it was "deeply concerned" about the armed clashes and called for "calm and restraint," urging all parties to open lines of communication.
Abdi Aynte, a former Somali minister for Planning, Investment and Economic Development, said that the biggest winner of the escalation would be the Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group, Al-Shabaab.
"They're [Al-Shabaab] revelling at the spectre of security forces fighting political opposition instead of chasing their sleeper cells in Mogadishu," he said, referring to the group's underground terrorist networks.
Somalia's outgoing prime minister, Mohamed Husein Roble, said in a video address that the clashes in the capital were unfortunate but that armed forces would protect citizens.
Jihan Abdullahi Hassan, the former director general for the Ministry of Defence, told The Daily Telegraph: "Last night we couldn't sleep as we were hearing gunshots. That amount of energy and ammunition could be used to fight the real enemy of Somalia, which is Al-Shabaab."
She added: "Al-Shabaab benefits from chaos, so they are celebrating today."