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Somali Power-Sharing Deal Lacks Support from Key Players

International diplomats and some Somali politicians say they are hopeful that a deal signed on Wednesday to share power between the country's transitional federal government and an Islamist-led opposition faction will pave the way toward ending nearly two years of violence in Somalia. But as VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, the agreement still lacks support from several key players in the conflict.

The agreement reached in the latest round of talks in Djibouti calls for the enlargement of the interim Somali parliament from 275 members to 550.

Two-hundred seats are allocated to the opposition group. The remaining 75 seats will go to civil society leaders.

The expanded parliament is to appoint a new speaker and hold new elections in January to elect an interim president. The unity transitional government has also been given two more years to consolidate power and to stabilize the country.

The U.N. Special Envoy to Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, who has been the mediator of the peace talks since they began earlier this year in Djibouti, called the power-sharing deal "very encouraging."

In Nairobi, the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneburger told reporters that he, too, believed the peace process could yield positive results. But he acknowledged that an on-going personal dispute between Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Nur Adde Hassan Hussein was not helpful to the process. The feud, which erupted in August, has further weakened the government by splitting it into factions.

"The challenge is to ensure that President Yusuf and the prime minister work together to ensure that this is implemented," said Ranneburger. "Obviously, that is not an ideal relationship. We also have the parliament with its own views. But we are certainly pressing all the institutions of the TFG [transitional federal government] to work together."

Publicly, Mr. Yusuf has expressed support for the Djibouti peace talks. He has denied making a proposal last week to move the talks to Libya, where he reportedly enjoys support from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. But parliament members close to the president privately say that Mr. Yusuf strongly disapproves of the power-sharing agreement and does not feel bound by it.

The latest agreement between the government and the opposition led by moderate Islamist leader Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed follows a deal signed in June to implement a ceasefire and replace thousands of Ethiopian troops in Somalia with a U.N. peacekeeping force in the coming months. The troops arrived in late 2006, when Ethiopia ousted the ruling Islamic Courts Union, installed the secular government in its place, and ignited an Islamist-led insurgency. The fighting in Somalia has killed thousands of people and has left millions displaced.

The opposition has never been able to implement the ceasefire because Islamist insurgents on the ground, led by the militant al-Qaida-linked Shabab group, have refused to join the talks and have continued their fight to throw Ethiopia out of Somalia and to regain control of the country.

The chief negotiator for the opposition alliance, Abdirahman Abdishakur Warsame, tells VOA that he is confident a ceasefire would come into effect as soon as Ethiopia withdrew its forces.

"Yes, the issue is how to deal with the complaints of those who are on the ground because the reason they are fighting is that they are against the presence of Ethiopian troops," he said. "And if you deal with that issue correctly, I think nobody will have the legitimacy to continue fighting."

Ethiopia has resisted calls for an immediate withdrawal because it fears Islamists with goals of uniting ethnically-Somali areas of southern Ethiopia with Somalia could fill the power vacuum its troops would leave behind. But Ethiopia has been showing growing impatience with the transitional government in recent weeks and has indicated that it would begin withdrawing troops within the next few weeks.