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Somali parliament votes to remove speaker

Thursday, January 18, 2007

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- The Somali parliament stripped the speaker position Wednesday from a top lawmaker who was closely associated with the recently ousted Islamic movement, a move the European Union said was disappointing and could hurt reconciliation efforts in the restive country. Diplomats said the fired speaker, Sharif Hassan Sheik Aden, was capable of pulling together moderate elements in Somalia's Islamic movement. Wednesday also saw the government's disarmament efforts receive a boost with three major warlords handing over vehicles and men.

Deputy Speaker Osman Ilmi Boqore announced the move against Aden in proceedings broadcast live on HornAfrik Radio. Lawmakers cited his public criticism of a proposed African peacekeeping mission that parliament had endorsed and his meetings with Islamic movement leaders without authority from parliament.

Boqore said only nine of the lawmakers present voted against the motion. Voting in favor were 183 lawmakers -- 44 more than required -- in the 275-member parliament

Aden's actions have been in "total violation of our transitional charter," lawmaker Mohamoud Begos told The Associated Press by phone from Baidoa, where parliament is based.

Speaking from Rome, Aden said the lawmakers who voted against him were not acting freely.

"They have been ordered to vote me out by the president, Abdullahi Yusuf, who wants to rule Somalia through Ethiopian forces and through this parliament. The president wants to crack down on all those who are against him," Aden said in a telephone interview. "I have been seeking reconciliation all over the world and this vote tries to destroy the very thing we have been looking for: reconciliation."

Aden had made several freelance peace initiatives with Somalia's Islamic movement before government forces -- backed by Ethiopian troops -- ousted them in December from the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia.

In Belgium on Wednesday, European Union spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tadio expressed disappointment at the Somali parliament's move against Aden, who held meetings with EU officials in Belgium earlier this week.

"We saw him as a someone who could make a bridge with the moderate elements," Altafaj said. "We had encouraged him to go back to Mogadishu to carry out his job and bring together as many political players as possible."

Michael E. Ranneberger, the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, told reporters in Nairobi before the vote that Aden was "the kind of person who could pull people together."

In the past year, Aden has differed with the president and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi over the location of the government and whether peacekeepers were needed. According to Somalia's transitional charter, parliament has to vote on all major government decisions before they can be implemented.

On Wednesday, Gedi told parliament he ruled out peace talks with the Islamic movement and hoped to see the first African peacekeepers in Somalia by month's end.

So far only Uganda has committed to contributing troops and few others have shown enthusiasm for a proposed 8,000-strong African mission to bolster the government's attempt to create law and order.

A peacekeeping mission could face some violence, something that may deter many countries from committing soldiers.

There has been sporadic fighting since the government took over Mogadishu on Dec. 28. Leaders of the Islamic movement have pledged to carry on a guerrilla war as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.

A U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia in the 1990s saw clashes between foreign troops and Somali warlords' fighters, including the notorious downings of two U.S. military Black Hawk helicopters in 1993. The U.S. withdrew from Somalia in 1994, and that was followed a year later by the departure of U.N. peacekeepers.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other, reducing the Horn of Africa nation to anarchy and clan-based violence. The Yusuf-Gedi government emerged from regional, U.N.-backed talks in 2004 and has since struggled to assert authority.

On Wednesday, three warlords who once held sway over parts of Mogadishu handed over at least 40 pickups fitted with machine-guns to the government.

One warlord, Mohamed Qanyare Afrah, said 700 of his militiamen had agreed to be absorbed into government forces. Another, Muse Sudi Yalahow, said his militiamen had also agreed to join government forces, though he declined to say how many.

The third warlord, Interior Minister Hussein Aided, said he had handed over pickups and his militiamen had joined government forces but did not say how many.

Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said the warlords' moves opened "a new era for the Somali people."

The U.N.'s humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Eric Laroche, urged quick action to prevent a power vacuum in Somalia.

"We need to resume as soon as possible high-impact projects in the capital that support stabilization and make a visible difference in peoples' lives," Laroche said in a statement released in Nairobi, where U.N. agencies working in Somalia are based because of insecurity in Somalia.

--—

Associated Press writers Mohamed Sheikh Nor and Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.


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