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Term Extended for Somali Parliament Amid Sharp International Criticism


Somalia’s international backers have extended the term of parliament beyond August, when the mandate of the country’s embattled transitional government expires. But it appears Somalia’s president may be replaced.

The international community on Monday handed down a harsh verdict on the performance of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, exactly two years after Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was chosen president.

A meeting at the AU summit site drew top officials of all the TFG’s main backers. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was there. So was African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi attended in his capacity as head of the East African regional community IGAD, and all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council were represented.

The U.S. delegation was led by the State Department’s number two, Deputy Secretary James Steinberg.

The meeting was closed, but a transcript of Ping’s remarks provided a stinging rebuke of the TFG’s performance. Ping said he was disappointed that no significant progress has been made in stabilizing the lawless country that has been without an effective government for 20 years.

A communiqué issued by IGAD praised the recent appointment of Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, and mentioned the need to extend the mandate of parliament. But on the subject of the presidency, the statement was vague. It said the remaining political dispensation will be handled by the people of Somalia.

Diplomats attending the meeting say that means Somalia's parliament must decide whether to elect a new president and speaker of the assembly. They say lawmakers are likely to choose new leaders within a few months.

Somalia’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Omar told reporters the TFG accepted the international community’s verdict of dissatisfaction. He says the harsh judgment should be seen as a call for renewed action to adopt a constitution and stabilize the country before the government’s mandate expires in August.

"The issue of dissatisfaction may be what it is, but the issue is a practical one. And we are looking at what needs to be done in a seven-month period which comes to a conclusion in August and how we move across that," he said.

Omar said the international community’s verdict is a call for Somalis to take advantage of indications that foreign-backed extremist groups are losing their grip, and to establish a permanent government. "It is essential that we put behind us the differences that in many respects are parochial in nature, and that we move on and grasp the opportunity that is presented today, and the period of six or seven months to come together to show again that we can build a nation that can take its seat alongside other nations in peace and put aside the weapons of war," he said.

Somalia’s last central government collapsed in 1991 when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown.

President Sharif’s government is backed by an 8,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force made up mostly of Ugandan and Burundian troops. The U.N. Security Council last month approved an increase in AMISOM’s size to 12,000 troops.

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