[dehai-news] (AP) Somali president quits amid international pressure


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From: Er-News (er_news@dehai.org)
Date: Mon Dec 29 2008 - 11:23:23 EST


Somali president quits amid international pressure

By MOHAMED OLAD HASSAN and ELIZABETH A. KENNEDY, Associated Press
Writer Mohamed Olad Hassan And Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Associated Press
Writer

MOGADISHU, Somalia The president of Somalia's U.N.-backed
government resigned Monday amid deepening international pressure, a
move that could usher in more chaos as a strengthening Islamic
insurgency scrambles for power.

Within hours of Abdullahi Yusuf's resignation, mortars shells slammed
into the pockmarked streets near the presidential palace in the
capital, Mogadishu, where the government maintains only a token
presence.

"Most of the country is not in our hands," Yusuf said in a speech
before parliament in Baidoa one of the only towns controlled by
Somalia's government, which has been sidelined by Islamic insurgents
with alleged ties to al-Qaida.

In the address broadcast nationwide on the radio, Yusuf said he could
not unite Somalia's bickering leadership and that the country was
"paralyzed."

"After seeing all these things, I have finally quit," said Yusuf, who
was president for four years. Meanwhile, troops from neighboring
Ethiopia are scheduled to pull out this week, leaving a massive power
vaccum after two years of propping up the weak Somali government.

The parliament speaker will stand as acting president until
parliament elects a new leader within 30 days. There have been no
announcements of who might be under consideration, but many believe
Yusuf's absence will allow moderate Islamist leaders into the
government, which Yusuf had largely rejected.

Yusuf is the latest leader to have failed to pacify Somalia during
two decades of turmoil. The Horn of African country has been beset by
anarchy, violence and an insurgency that has killed thousands of
civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing for their lives.

There have been more than a dozen attempts to form an effective
government since 1991. Meanwhile, all public institutions have
crumbled and the once-beautiful seaside capital is now a gun-blasted
shantytown.

The most aggressive Islamic insurgency group, al-Shabab, has made
dramatic territory gains in recent months, and insurgents now control
most of the country. In a statement Monday, al-Shabab said Yusuf was
resigning "with shame." The statement said it was too early to tell
if Yusuf's replacement would be an improvement.

The United States accuses al-Shabab of harboring the al-Qaida-linked
terrorists who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in
1998. Many of the insurgency's senior figures are Islamic radicals;
some are on the State Department's list of wanted terrorists.

The U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who has been trying
to salvage an ineffective peace deal in the country, lauded Yusuf's
resignation and said "a new page of Somalia history is now open."

The United Nations has brokered peace deals between the government
and an opposition faction, but they have failed to quell the
political and violent chaos. Al-Shabab has refused to participate in
the talks.

Yusuf, who like many of Somalia's leaders is a former warlord, has
been accused of being an obstacle to peace. Earlier this month, he
tried to fire his prime minister, but was rebuffed by parliament.
Neighboring countries, including Kenya, have threatened to impose
sanctions on Yusuf and his family.

"I am happy that the Somali president has resigned," Prime Minister
Nur Hassan Hussein said. "I wish him to become Somali elder and play
a role in the common endeavor to restore peace and order in Somalia."

Thousands of civilians have been killed or maimed by mortar shells,
machine-gun crossfire and grenades in near-daily fighting in this
arid country. The U.N. says Somalia has 300,000 acutely malnourished
children, but attacks and kidnappings of aid workers have shut down
many humanitarian projects.

The lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off the coast.

Rights groups have accused all sides in the conflict Islamic
insurgents, the government and Ethiopian troops of committing war
crimes and other serious abuses for indiscriminately firing on
civilian neighborhoods.

Ethiopia's planned withdrawal of troops would end their unpopular
presence and leave the administration more vulnerable to insurgents.
The Ethiopians entered Somalia two years ago with the tacit approval
of the United States to drive out an earlier group of Islamic
insurgents.

Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords
overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one
another. The current transitional government was formed with U.N.
help in 2004.

Yusuf, a former Somali army colonel in the 1960s, was jailed by Barre
when he refused to cooperate in a coup d'etat in 1969. Although Yusuf
is a member of one of Somalia's four biggest clans, the Darod, he was
unpopular in Mogadishu because of his ties to Ethiopia one of
Somalia's traditional enemies.

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