December 28, 2008

Key Somali official (president) says president to quit Monday

By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN – 36 minutes ago

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somalia's president will resign Monday to try to end government infighting before the country's Ethiopian allies leave, a senior ally said Sunday in the latest in a series of conflicting statements on the leader's future.

President Abdullahi Yusuf will address a special session of the country's parliament to announce his retirement from politics, said Abdirashid Sed, a confidant of Yusuf and the most senior figure to comment so far on the president's plans.

"He decided to step down because he does not want to be seen as an obstacle to peace in Somalia," Sed told The Associated Press. "He wants to give a chance to the younger generation."

The announcement came as 19 people died in clashes in the Horn of Africa nation that has been ravaged by 18 years of civil war.

Map:Wordpress

The president's position has been in doubt since parliament last week blocked his attempt to fire Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein.

The political infighting has crippled the Somali government, which came to power two years ago after Ethiopian troops attacked an Islamic administration that had ruled much of the south and the capital for six months.

Islamist insurgents have hit back and now hold most of southern and central Somalia. Yusuf's administration only controls a few pockets of territory in the capital and one other town.

The Ethiopian allies are due to pull out within days and the government will be forced to rely on their own unpaid and ill-disciplined fighters to tackle the insurgency.

Hussein, a former humanitarian worker with broad international support, has welcomed talks with factions fighting in the civil war. He backed a peace deal signed with Islamic moderates that was criticized by Yusuf, a former warlord from one of Somalia's biggest clans.

Some analysts hope Yusuf's expected resignation and the departure of the Ethiopians — largely Christians in a Muslim country — may persuade the strongest and most hardline Islamic militia, al-Shabab, to enter peace talks.

But some analysts say al-Shabab's territorial gains have put it in a strong position and would have little incentive to talk with the government.

Al-Shabab fought with a moderate local Islamist group Sunday in the central Somali town of Dusamareeb, about 300 miles (480 kilometers) north of Mogadishu, leaving 10 dead, said witness Mohamud Jama Aden. The local militia accuses al-Shabab of harassing its members and destroying temples and tombs of respected clerics.

A separate clash between rival militias left five dead Sunday in the central town of Galinsoor, said clan elder Guhad Yusuf Aw-nure. Meanwhile, Ethiopian troops in southern Mogadishu shot dead four civilians following a bomb blast near one of their bases, according to resident Abdi Haji Isaq.

In Merka, a southern port city under al-Shabab control, armed men raided the office of the U.N. World Food Program and an Italian aid agency and took cash and equipment, an employee said. He asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisals. Nairobi-based WFP spokesman Peter Smerdon said they were investigating the reports.

Any political solution would also depend on the powerful clan warlords and the businessmen who have profited from the chaos in Somalia, with its government riven with corruption and squabbling.

Impoverished Somalia has not had a functioning government since warlords overthrew its socialist dictator in 1991.

Associated Press Writers Salad Duhul in Mogadishu, Somalia, and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.

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