Somali political power struggles turn violent

Mogadishu - At least two people were killed Monday in clashes in the Somali town of Baidoa, the latest violence in the war-torn nation sparked by political power struggles, police said.

The United Nations, United States and European Union have all warned political power struggles are putting at risk fragile gains in the Horn of Africa nation.

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets, burning tires and attacking vehicles, in a bid to stop elections for the local president of the federal South West state based in Baidoa, some 250km northwest of the capital.

"The demonstration turned violent after people started burning tires and threw stones at vehicles, then they stopped a pick-up with gunmen who opened fire," said local police officer Mohamed Adris.

A pick-up truck was later torched and hurled off a bridge, with two people killed in the fighting, witness Osman Sheikh Mumin said.

African Union troops, deployed to fight alongside government troops against al-Qaeda affiliated Shabaab militants, protected the centre where voting took place.

Local officials said former national parliament speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, was elected to the post.

Somalia has splintered in multiple local regions, with varying degrees of autonomy and acceptance of the internationally-backed central government in Mogadishu, where leaders propped up by billions in foreign aid are also competing for power.

"The aim of the violent demonstration was only to disrupt the conference and the election... AU soldiers stopped them from reaching the venue and the situation is under control," said local elder Mohamed Isack.

The violence comes as national President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud left for meetings with foreign donors in Copenhagen, and amid repeated calls for calm by foreign donors.

In Mogadishu, tensions remain high, with the president and his prime minister, Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed, at odds for months, with two failed attempts by lawmakers to push a vote of no confidence in Ahmed.

UN envoy Nicholas Kay on Monday warned that the "ongoing political crisis in Somalia is a serious risk to further progress."

The Somali government, which took power in August 2012, was the first to be given global recognition since the collapse of Siad Barre's hardline regime in 1991.

Political wrangles and reports of corruption have raised concern the government, like the last administration, is blighted by infighting and failing to unite in the face of the threat by the Shabaab.

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