September 12, 2009 / 3:08 PM / 10 years ago

Three killed in Somaliland opposition protest

HARGEISA (Reuters) - Three people died and six were injured on Saturday when Somaliland police used live rounds and tear gas to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing opposition protesters in the increasingly tense breakaway enclave.

Somaliland has enjoyed relative peace compared with the rest of Somalia since the Horn of Africa nation plunged into anarchy in 1991. But persistent delays to presidential elections have worried rights groups and angered the opposition.

Politicians traded blows in parliament on Tuesday and one lawmaker pulled out a pistol after officials agreed to debate a motion to impeach the president over the delays. The poll set for September 27 was postponed at the start of week.

The opposition-led House of Representatives was due to resume business on Saturday, but when it failed to reopen angry protesters burned tyres along the main road in the Hargeisa.

Initially restrained, the police fired tear gas as crowds neared the presidency and then shot over the heads of the demonstrators when then hurled stones, eyewitnesses said.

They said a youth died from a shot to the head and a woman was among the killed. Three of those injured were police.

Somaliland’s president blamed the chairman of the House of Representatives and the main opposition party for the unrest.

“Political problems and disturbances can be solved through dialogue. Using force will give an opportunity to the country’s enemies to give more fuel to the disturbances,” said President Dahir Rayale Kahin.

“My door has been open for dialogue and is still open. We are ready for discussion but we are also responsible for the security of the country. I see that such an uprising is not good for the people, the nation and its development,” he said.

The violent protests came two days after the African Union said it was concerned about rising tensions in Somaliland following the election postponement.

Somaliland is governed by the elected House of Representatives and an upper house made up of clan elders. The House of Elders has twice extended President Kahin’s mandate and it is now due to expire on October 29.

The spokesman for the traditional leaders trying to resolve the crisis said they had agreed to meet the House of Representatives chairman later on Saturday for talks.

Sheikh Aden Sira, a prominent religious leader speaking after midday prayer in one of the largest mosques in Hargeisa, said the president should step down.

“You have ruled enough and it would be good if you resign before more blood is shed.”

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