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International airline lands in Mogadishu after 20-year break

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By AFP

Posted  Wednesday, March 7  2012 at  15:57
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The first long-distance international commercial airliner in some two decades to fly to Somalia's war-torn capital landed on its maiden flight at Mogadishu airport Tuesday.

The Turkish Airlines flight, with a high level delegation from Ankara led by Turkish deputy prime minister Bekir Bosdag, was welcomed on landing in the anarchic seaside capital by Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.

"Today is big day for Somalia -- Turkish Airlines made its first official flight to Somalia," said Somali government official Abdisalam Mohamud, adding that top leaders welcomed the flight to "commemorate the big event."

Several Somali airlines, including Kenya-based African Express, fly into Somalia from neighbouring nations, but Turkish Airlines' proposed twice-weekly flights are the first commercial flights from outside the region.

"The deputy prime minister of Turkey has officially opened the operations of the international carrier," Mohamud added.

Somalia has had no effective government since 1991 and in recent years Al-Qaeda-allied Shebab insurgents and other groups have taken an increasing hold on large parts of the country.

Security was tightened in Mogadishu ahead of the plane's arrival, with the main roads in neighborhoods around the airport blocked by gangs of heavily armed policemen.

"Security is a major issue in Mogadishu so that we are trying our best to assure that things go smoothly," said Somali police commander, Colonel Mohamed Adan.

"We are very happy to see this country gradually gaining international attention, a step on the road towards development," Adan added.

The airline's arrival was welcomed by Mogadishu residents, who said they hoped it would make it easier for relatives in the large Somali diaspora scattered around the world to come home to visit.

"Everybody is talking about Turkish Airlines," said Hidig Ali, a resident of Mogadishu. "This is a big deal, as it can help many people outside the country to come back and see their homeland and family."

"Turkish Airlines will encourage other international carriers to realise they, too, can operate in Somalia. It really is a major step towards development and we are happy today with Turkey," said Shamso Agey, another resident.