News / Africa

Somali Prime Minister Resigns

The prime minister of Somalia's Transitional Federal Government has resigned, bringing an end to months of dispute that has further weakened the U.N.-backed administration in Mogadishu.

Differences with president

Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said he was stepping down from office because he was unable to work out the differences he had with President Sharif Sheik Ahmed. Mr. Sharmarke said he made the decision to resign after considering the political turmoil and growing insecurity caused by their dispute.

President Sharif called Mr. Sharmarke's decision "courageous," and promised to nominate a new prime minister in the coming days.

Setbak for UN

The resignation is a setback for the United Nations, which had sponsored the 2008 power-sharing deal in Djibouti that brought together secular members of the government and an Islamist opposition group led by Sharif Sheik Ahmed. The international community had hoped that President Sharif and Prime Minister Sharmarke could create a plan to defeat a militant Islamist insurgency and lift the country out of nearly two decades of war.

But the two leaders quickly became embroiled in personal quarrels that hampered their ability to carry out their duties. The latest dispute flared in early August when President Sharif pushed for a delay in the ratification of the country's draft constitution against the advice of the prime minister.

Critics of the government say the only group in Somalia that has benefited from the political bickering is al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group that is battling the government and African Union peacekeepers for control of Mogadishu. It also has ambitions to unite the Horn of Africa under a radical Islamic banner.

Militant attacks

In recent weeks, al-Shabab militants have doubled their effort to overthrow the government. The group has claimed responsibility for suicide attacks in the capital that killed dozens of people, including parliament members and several peacekeepers.

On Monday, a Somali police spokesman told reporters that a man had tried to carry out a suicide attack inside the presidential palace.

The police spokesman said the bomber tried to jump onto an African Union vehicle as a convoy of peacekeepers drove through the palace gates. When African Union troops opened fire, the man threw a grenade at the peacekeepers and detonated his explosives vest.

The spokesman said the bomber was a former security guard at the Interior Ministry, who recently defected to al-Shabab.

But another Islamist insurgent group, Hizbul Islam, says it was behind Monday's attack.

Hizbul Islam leader in Mogadishu, Abdi Nassir Abu Hashim, says one of its members, Ali Abdullah Kheireh, also known as Dalha, carried out – in Abu Hashim's words – the "successful mission."

Hizbul Islam formed in early 2009 to oppose the Transitional Federal Government and had a brief alliance with al-Shabab. Hizbul Islam leaders were considered more nationalist than religious zealots, so the international community privately urged President Sharif to reach out to Hizbul Islam's top cleric, Hassan Dahir Aweys. The two men were leaders of the Islamic Courts Union, which ruled Somalia in 2006 before it was ousted by Ethiopia's military.

But talks with Aweys broke down. Hizbul Islam subsequently split into pro and anti-al-Shabab factions.

Somali sources tell VOA that in recent months, many Hizbul Islam fighters in regions such as Lower Shabelle and Hiran have joined al-Shabab, strengthening the extremist group's hold on Somalia.

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