MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somalia held a state funeral Friday for former president Ali Mahdi Mohamed, who died of COVID-19 earlier this week in neighboring Kenya.
The seaside capital was brought to a standstill, with all the main roads blocked by the army and police as the hearse was transported to a mosque where the late president’s family paid their last respects.
Somalia has declared three days of mourning during which the national flag will be lowered to half-staff in honor of Mohamed, who was 86.
Although President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and his opponents appeared united in grief, there was notably no close interaction between the opposing groups, not even handshakes, amid a continuing stalemate over how and when to hold the Horn of Africa country's overdue elections.
Heavy security deployment also added to the grim atmosphere in Mogadishu, which has seen repeated attacks by Islamic extremists in recent days as the country's leaders fail to agree on the way forward after the expiry of the president's term last month.
Liban Ali Mahdi, a son of the deceased former president, told reporters that his father died of COVID-19 and that his widow remains hospitalized with the coronavirus in a Nairobi hospital.
Mohamed was appointed interim president of Somalia in neighboring Djibouti in 1991 immediately after the fall of the dictator Siad Barre. But his presidency was immediately disputed by a rival, the warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid, against whose fighters Mohamed's loyalists fought a clannish, violent war in the streets of Mogadishu. The violence contributed to a famine that devastated the country until the intervention of the United States-led Operation Restore Hope in 1992.
Mohamed had joined politics early, becoming the country's youngest legislator in 1969 before the rise of Barre, who toppled a democratically elected government.
In recent years Mohamed was a respected elder as well as a successful businessman who made a fortune as the owner of one of Mogadishu's best hotels in addition to holdings in other businesses.
Just before his death, Mohamed urged Somali leaders to hold peaceful elections as tensions rose over delayed polls.
”No one could control this country using force, so I appeal you all leaders and the current government to convene a free and fair elections as the alternative could be a civil war,” he said.