Thousands of Somalis demonstrated against those behind bombings that killed more than 300 people, defying police who opened fire to keep them away from the site where friends and relatives were killed.
The twin blasts in the heart of Mogadishu on Saturday injured more than 400 in what are the country’s deadliest truck bombings.
Police initially opened fire to prevent people accessing the rubble-strewn explosion scene, injuring at least two people, the emergency response service said. Overwhelmed by numbers they eventually let thousands of protesters gather at the site.
Residents said they have never seen such a big protest in the city.
“We are demonstrating against the terrorists that massacred our people. We entered the road by force,” said Halima Abdullahi, a mother who lost six relatives in the blasts.
The Islamist militant group al Shabaab, which began an insurgency in 2007, has not claimed responsibility, but the method and type of attack – a large truck bomb – is increasingly used by the al Qaeda-linked organisation.
Mohamed Ali, a police captain at the site, said it was fine for protesters to access the site to express their grief.
“For some who could not see their relatives alive or dead, the only chance they have is to at least see the spot where they were killed,” he told Reuters.
Later President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed addressed demonstrators at a city football field and called on Somalis to join the national army.
“Take your guns and let’s liberate our country. Come forward for recruitment into government forces in order to fight and eliminate al Shabaab,” he said.
Government buried at least 160 of the dead because they could not be identified.
Masked security officers kept an eye on the protest on foot and on motorbikes. Some protesters sat on police trucks waving sticks and chanting: “We do not want al Shabaab”.
The militants were driven out of Mogadishu in 2011 and have been steadily losing territory. But they retain the capacity to mount large bomb attacks.
Over the past three years, the number of civilians killed by insurgent bombings has climbed as al Shabaab increases the size of its bombs.
In the town of Dusamareb, residents also marched for several hours to protest against the bombings in Mogadishu and clerics called for the war on the militants to be stepped up.
Abdikadir Abdirahman, the director of Aamin Ambulances, said a pregnant demonstrator was evacuated from the Mogadishu protest after she developed complications.