Thousands of residents in Mogadishu took to the streets Thursday to protest Ethiopia’s Red Sea access and naval base deal with Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland.
The deal has sparked outrage among Somalis in and outside of the Horn of Africa nation.
Protesters included students from secondary schools and universities, religious leaders and traditional elders who marched through the capital and ended at Daljirka Dahson, or the monument of the unknown soldier, near the presidential palace.
Senior government officials joined the protests, including Interior Minister Ahmed Moalim Fiqi and Justice Minister Hassan Moalim.
“We are here to respond to the aggression, violations by Ethiopia in mass,” Moalim told the crowd.
University student Abdullahi Ahmed Adan, 23, told Anadolu that the crowd came to “show support for our government that is fighting hard to maintain the unity, sovereignty and our territorial integrity.”
Habibo Hassan, from the Hodan neighborhood, told Anadolu that the deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland has united Somalis “like I have never seen before.”
Mogadishu was in lockdown ahead of the government-backed protest.
Major streets were closed and there was a huge security presence affecting movement and public transport.
Somalia has rejected Ethiopia’s Red Sea port deal with Somaliland, calling it “illegitimate,” a threat to good neighborliness and a violation of its sovereignty. It also recalled its ambassador to Ethiopia after the deal was announced.
The Ethiopian government has defended its decision to sign the deal and said the agreement with Somaliland “will affect no party or country.”
The deal gives Ethiopia the opportunity to obtain a permanent and reliable naval base and commercial maritime service in the Gulf of Aden.
Ethiopia lost its Red Sea ports in the early 1990s after the Eritrean War of Independence, which lasted from 1961 to 1991.
In 1991, Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia, leading to the establishment of two separate nations.
The separation resulted in Ethiopia losing direct access to the Red Sea and key ports.