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Somalia's Election of Speaker Raises Islamists' Suspicions


In Somalia, this week's election in parliament of a new interim speaker, who is a pro-Ethiopian former factional leader closely allied to President Abdullahi Yusuf, has deepened suspicion among supporters of the country's Islamist movement that Somali leaders are not serious about creating an inclusive government. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has that story and more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

One of the top advisors in the Somali government, Ali Abdullahi, tells VOA that Wednesday's election of Sheik Adan Mohamed Nur Madobe as the third most powerful leader in the country should be viewed as a positive development.

He predicts that Somalia's parliament under Madobe's leadership will be more united and function more efficiently.

"The government will be able to pass a lot of laws," he noted. "Since Adan Madobe is very close to the president, there will not be the friction that was there when Sheik Sharif was there."

Sheik Sharif is in reference to Sharif Hassan Sheik Adan, who was forced out as speaker of the parliament two weeks ago.

Adan was reportedly ousted for opposing Ethiopia's military intervention in Somalia and for promoting reconciliation talks with Islamists, who controlled large parts of southern Somalia for nearly seven months until they were driven from power in late December by Ethiopian and government troops.

The new parliament speaker is staunchly pro-Ethiopia and bitterly against the ultra-conservative Wahabbi branch of Islam, embraced by some radical leaders of the Somali Islamist movement with alleged links to the al-Qaida terrorist organization.

Like the country's secular president and prime minister, Madobe is said to be wary not only of radicals in the Islamist movement who had threatened to overthrow the interim government, but others in the movement identified as conciliatory moderates.

For the past month, western nations, trying to stabilize a country torn between clan and religious loyalties, have pressed Somali leaders to begin a power-sharing dialogue with the top moderate leader of the disbanded Islamic Courts Union, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed.

Weeks after fleeing Mogadishu, Ahmed turned himself in to authorities in Kenya, where he began negotiating with U.S. and European Union officials about reconciling with the Somali government.

On the sidelines of the African Union summit in Ethiopia this week, President Yusuf agreed to hold a reconciliation conference with all segments of Somali society. The conference is expected to be held within the next several weeks.

But government advisor Ali Abdullahi says Mr. Yusuf did not specifically agree to holding talks with Islamists like Ahmed, whom the government says are refusing to acknowledge that their movement has been defeated.

"They are not a political party," he added. "The Islamic Courts, per say, will not be invited, because they have disintegrated. They have no legitimacy."

On Tuesday, a video clip appeared on a Somali Islamist Internet web site, carrying the announcement that the Islamic Courts Union had reformed into a militant group called the People's Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations.

The video urged Somalis to rise up in a holy war against Ethiopian troops and pledged to kill any peacekeeper deployed in Somalia to support the interim government.

Two days after the video aired, mortars and rockets rained down near the presidential palace in Mogadishu, underlining the immense challenges facing President Yusuf's government.

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