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Police in Somalia have announced a 33-hour curfew on the capital Mogadishu that will keep almost all residents at home during a presidential election by lawmakers on Sunday, in which incumbent leader Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed is seeking a second term.
Police spokesperson Abdifatah Aden announced at a press conference on Saturday a full curfew in the city, covering both traffic and people, from Saturday at 9:00 PM (1800 GMT) until Monday at 6:00 AM.
Lawmakers, security personnel and all others officials involved in the vote are still free to move during those hours.
The indirect election, in which lawmakers will pick a president, will take place in an airport hangar behind blast walls to help fend off potential Islamist attacks or meddling by factions within the security services.
Mohamed is facing 37 opponents in the vote, including two former presidents, Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who analysts see as the frontrunners.
Originally they were 39, but between Thursday and Friday two candidates announced they were exiting the race.
Polls are due to commence early on Sunday and are expected to proceed late into the night amid a volatile security atmosphere in which police fear Islamist group al Shabaab could seek to carry out attacks to disrupt the event.
The al Shabaab insurgency has gripped Somalia for more than a decade, and a promise by Mohamed at his inauguration in 2017 to “finish” the group has gone unfulfilled.
Al Shabaab says it wants to topple the Horn of Africa country’s central government and establish its own rule based on its strict interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.
Somalia’s next leader will inherit a daunting list of challenges, including the worst drought in 40 years, a violent conflict entering its fourth decade, clan feuds, and a power struggle between the government and federal member states.
Arrack on town
Illustrating the volatility, a militia previously allied to the government attacked Dhuusamareeb, the capital of Galmudug state, on Friday morning, residents said.
Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a (ASWJ), a group of moderate Sufi Muslims, said it wanted to take control because federal authorities were not doing enough to fight hardline militants.
“Let them put down their guns and help us eliminate al Shabaab,” Abdisalan Aden Hussein, an ASWJ spokesperson, told Reuters.
Residents said there was heavy gunfire from dawn and ASWJ forces armed with rocket propelled grenades and machine guns had entered the town. But Galmudug state information minister Ahmed Shire Falagle said they had been repulsed by government forces.
The presidential vote has been delayed repeatedly, putting a three-year $400 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) support programme at risk.
Analysts said former presidents Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud were the frontrunners.
Ahmed took over as head of a Western-backed transitional government in 2009.
Mohamud, a former academic whom donors accused of not doing enough to fight graft while in office, has promised to reconcile clans and the regions, and to hold a constitutional referendum.
“Somalia cannot have a dictator leader,” he said this week.
Close contenders and likely king-makers in the later rounds of voting are Puntland region president Said Abdulahi Deni and former Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire.
Some residents of Mogadishu said they felt the election would be rigged and unlikely to change much anyway. “We have seen such pseudo-elections before. I believe another liar will be elected,” said Fardawsa Ahmed, a restaurant owner.