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Puntland

Fighting erupts in Somalia’s Puntland as voting changes debated

Fighting erupts in Somalia’s Puntland as voting changes debated
A photograph made available on 27 March 2014 shows a helicopter flying over Bosaso city as French sailors stand on the deck onboard the EU NAVFOR (European Union Naval Force) French flagship FS Siroco off the coast of the port city Bosaso, in Somalia's semi-autonomous state Puntland, in the Gulf of Aden, in the evening of 26 March 2014. EPA/DAI KUROKAWA

MOGADISHU, June 20 (Reuters) - At least two people died after heavy fighting erupted on Tuesday in Garowe, the capital of Somalia's semi-autonomous region of Puntland, a witness told Reuters, as the local parliament debated changes to the voting system.

Three other witnesses also described heavy fighting that broke out after opposition groups accused Puntland’s leader, Said Abdullahi Deni, of seeking constitutional changes that would extend his term in office beyond January next year, or help tip the ballot in his favour.

The Puntland government said on Facebook that the regional parliament had voted to consider amendments to the constitution, and that further debates and votes would take place.

Reuters was not immediately able to reach local or federal officials for comment on the violence.

“Fighting erupted immediately after the Puntland parliament voted for a one-man-one-vote election with multiple political parties,” local elder Farah Osman said. “The lawmakers are still in the house, and a heavy exchange of fire is rocking the town. It is a very fierce battle.”

“Garowe is full of opposing forces. All roads are closed, all business closed,” Osman added.

Seinab Omar, a mother of three children, told Reuters she had seen at least two dead civilians and seven others who had bullet wounds.

Shopkeeper Abdullahi Omar said he had closed his shop and run home.

“Anti-aircraft guns and machine guns are raining down around Garowe today,” he said. “Government forces and other troops and clan militias loyal to opposition politicians are fighting over politics.”

(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Estelle Shirbon, Gareth Jones and Conor Humphries)

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