As Islamist insurgents continued an assault on government forces in Mogadishu, President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed signed a bill late Wednesday enacting Islamic Sharia law in the country.
President Ahmed said Somalia is a Muslim country and the people support Islamic law. He instructed his cabinet ministers to implement the legislation and defended the bill from the criticism of the insurgents threatening the government. Mr. Sharif said this is the first time Islamic law has been introduced in Somalia, so what reason do they have for opposing it, other than to destroy the country?
Application of law unclear
It remains unclear how the law will be applied or how it will relate to the existing secular constitution that governs Somalia's provisional government. President Sharif said he would name legal experts to work through any conflicts.
Supporters of the president hope that the formal introduction of Islamic law will help to undermine the Islamist insurgency. Since last Thursday, fighters from the al-Shabab and Hizbul-Islam militias have led an offensive against government forces, pro-government militias and African Union peacekeepers.
Al-Shabab leader urges fighters to continue attacks
But a top al-Shabab leader, Sheikh Muktar Abdirahman "Godane", issued a taped message Wednesday urging fighters to continue their attacks against the government. Godane said the government should not be considered Islamic because it was created to fight Islamists.
President Sharif served alongside several of the current insurgent leaders in a short-lived Islamist government that was ousted by Ethiopia in late 2006. President Sharif's faction of the opposition signed a deal with the government last year and joined it in January.
International support doesn't lead to stability
President Sharif's government enjoys international backing, but has little control on the ground, beyond a few streets and key buildings in the capital.
The U.N. representative for Somalia said the international community should defend the fragile government.
But after discussing Somalia on Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council said it would not send a peacekeeping force until the security situation improves. Instead, the Council said it would continue to support the 4,000 member African Union peacekeeping force.
Red Cross: more than 400 mostly civilians wounded
According to reports from the country, at least 120 people have been killed by the fighting during the past week. The International Committee of the Red Cross said more than 400 people have been treated at hospitals it supports in Mogadishu, most of them civilians, and that thousands of people have been newly displaced from their homes.
On Thursday, at least three more people were killed in clashes in northern Mogadishu.
International humanitarian agencies are warning the latest fighting exacerbates an already dire situation. More than one million people have been displaced by previous rounds of fighting. The United Nations also says Somalia is facing its worse drought in a decade, with almost half the population malnourished.