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Somali president's visit to Minneapolis met with protests, support

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Over 100 people participated in a peaceful protest outside of Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahmoud's speech at the University of Minnesota's Northrop Auditorium Saturday.

Minnesota is home to the largest Somali-American community in the U.S., with an estimated 30,000 Somalis living mostly in the Twin Cities. Many in the state's Somali community are divided on whether Mahmoud can lead the country.

Protesters Saturday accused Mahmoud of clan favoritism, causing divisions between the country's ethnic groups and are disappointed with his leadership amid continuing problems in the African nation.

Abidirizak Jama, a protest organizer who is against Mahmoud's visit to Minnesota, told KSTP "He's out of touch" and "we are calling to tell him to step down and be accountable for the killings in Somali that is also dividing the people here."

Protesters accused the Mahmoud administration of supporting al-Shabaab, a militant Islamic group based in Somalia that has recently stepped up their attacks in the nation's capital, Modgadishu, the Minnesota Daily reports.

Al-Shabaab has taken responsibility for killing five members of parliament since the beginning of the year, including the death of Saado Ali Warsame, a former Minnesota resident, popular Somali singer and lawmaker, MPR News says.

Others in the Somali community gathered outside Northrop Auditorium waving flags. They weren't calling for Mahmoud to step down, but looking for reassurance from the president on his two-day visit to the Twin Cities.

"There are a lot of people here, of course we are Minnesotans, and we are Somalis as well," Ahmed Hirsi, a Minneapolis resident who helped coordinate Mahmoud's visit, told KSTP. "We just want him to give us a bit of reassurance that everything is going to be OK, that our families are OK back there and that things will be normal, that they will go back to the way they used to be."

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Mahmoud was in Minneapolis as part of a tour to engage Somali Americans, KSTP notes. Earlier this week, Mahmoud attended a summit with U.S. and African leaders.

Some of the state's Somali leaders told MPR News Mahmoud and other Somali leaders understand Minnesota's Somali community is key to rebuilding peace in the African country. MPR News notes many lawmakers in the Somali parliament and at least one cabinet member are former residents of Minnesota.

Mahmoud's visit comes at a time of rising political influence in Minnesota's Somali-American community.

Democratic candidate Mohamud Noor, 36, is challenging longtime Minnesota House Rep. Phyllis Kahn in this year’s primary elections, and if he wins he’d be the first Somali-born state lawmaker in the U.S., The Associated Press reports.

His candidacy follows historic wins by Somali-Americans for a seat in 2010 on the Minneapolis school board, and a Minneapolis City Council seat last year.

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