Civilians begin to migrate to safer areas on Tuesday after disagreement over the elections between the opposition and the Somali government turned into conflict in Mogadishu. [SADAK MOHAMED/GETTY IMAGES]

MOGADISHU, Somalia-Somali President Mohamed Farmajo called early on Wednesday for elections and a return to dialogue after the extension of his mandate by two years sparked the country’s worst political violence in years.

Farmajo addressed the nation at around 1 am local time after hours of anticipation, with Mogadishu on a knife’s edge as government troops and pro-opposition soldiers beefed up their positions and civilians fled their homes.

The rival sides exchanged gunfire on Sunday in an eruption of long-simmering tensions sparked by the delay of February elections and Farmajo’s extension of his mandate earlier this month.

The president said he would appear before parliament on Saturday to “gain their endorsement for the electoral process”, calling on political actors to hold “urgent discussions” on how to conduct the vote.

“As we have repeatedly stated, we have always been ready to implement timely and peaceful elections in the country,” he said.

His speech came after Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble-and leaders of the two key states which have backed him, Galmudug and Hirshabelle-on Tuesday rejected the extension of his mandate and called for elections to be held.

A deal had been cobbled together in September, which later collapsed, and multiple rounds of United Nations-backed talks failed to broker a way forward.

The international community has repeatedly called for elections to go ahead, threatening sanctions.

“I hereby call upon all of the signatories of the Sept 17 agreement to come together immediately for urgent discussions on the unconditional implementation of the above-mentioned agreement,” said Farmajo.

The law extending Farmajo’s mandate planned for a long-promised one-person, one-vote election in 2023, the first such direct poll since 1969, the year dictator Siad Barre led a coup before ruling for two decades.

The collapse of Barre’s military regime in 1991 led to decades of civil war and lawlessness fueled by clan conflicts.

For more than a decade conflict has centered on al-Shabaab, the extremist insurgents linked to al-Qaida, who control swathes of countryside and regularly stage deadly attacks in the capital.

International partners have expressed concern about the fighting especially by the emerging fragmentation of the Somali National Army along clan lines, which detracts from its primary task of combating al-Shabaab and protecting the Somali population.

However the return of street combat in Mogadishu, and the army splintering along clan lines-the building blocks of Somali society-has put the country on a “precipice”,said analyst Omar Mahmood.

Agencies – Xinhua