Somalia: Government under rebel attack

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Somalia is niggling from attacks on its parliament that left 11 people dead and 20 injured, in the wake of calls for reform in the largely lawless Horn of Africa nation. As the parliament met for the first time this year, Islamist insurgents fired mortars into the government building.

The parliament met for the first time since December, to resolve the issue of treason in the transitional government, but insurgents seized the moment to protest.

Somali Parliamentary speaker, Sheikh Adan Madobe, urged Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to appoint a new prime minister, after Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke was accused of treason. There was reported commotion in the chamber as members voted to remove the speaker who had criticized the PM. However, some MPs voted to sack the prime minister.

As the politics played out in the Chamber, insurgents fired mortar bombs at the building in Mogadishu. African Union peacekeepers returned retaliatory fire. Many Somali MPs live abroad in fear of such attacks; the chamber last met in December.

According to witnesses, the attacks were launched on Sunday from Mogadishu’s main market at Bakara. Islamic insurgents have fought Somalia’s United Nations backed government; a three-year war against the fragile interim government. The country has not had a functioning central government since 1991.

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed came to prominence as one of the leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts, which controlled most of southern Somalia for six months in 2006.

An exiled leader of a faction within the Eritrea-based Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), President Ahmed was backed by the UN in a peace process between moderate Islamists and the fragile Western-backed Transitional Federal Government.

President Ahmed led his group into negotiations with the government and in December 2008 President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed quit after a power-struggle with his prime minister about the reconciliation talks.

Somalia is often described as Africa’s worst humanitarian crisis: a third of the population depends on food aid. Islamist militia and UN-backed transitional government heve been competing for control of country.

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