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Somalia President's Health Fuels Speculation Over Successor


Somalia's interim President Abdullahi Yusuf spent a second day in a hospital in the Kenyan capital Nairobi amid growing reports that the 72-uear-old leader is gravely ill. With no clear successor, VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in Nairobi reports there is mounting concern of increasing turmoil in Somalia.

President Yusuf was at Nairobi Hospital for a second day Wednesday under heavy security and a cloak of secrecy about why he needed to be hospitalized.

Since he was admitted, Mr. Yusuf's aides and other officials in the transitional federal government have said that the president, who received a new liver 11 years ago, came to Nairobi for a routine check-up before traveling to London for a more thorough examination.

But Kenyan sources tell VOA that the president is suffering from a serious stomach ailment and is being fed intravenously. Other reports say the Somali leader has bronchitis and needs an oxygen mask to breathe.

Mr. Yusuf , who was appointed to the post in 2004 with the backing of neighboring Ethiopia, has been in poor health for years. He was flown to Nairobi a day before he was to hold crucial talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa about Somalia's myriad problems, including an Islamist-led insurgency that has largely kept his secular government from functioning since it took power nearly a year ago.

President Yusuf's absence from those talks has fueled speculation that his condition may be much more serious than what Somali officials are acknowledging.

If Mr. Yusuf dies in office, Parliament Speaker Sheik Adan Mohamed Nur would be required to take the helm briefly while parliament chooses a new president. But following the recent ouster of Ali Mohamed Gedi as prime minister, Mr. Yusuf has been tightening his grip on power in Somalia and leaving little room for a possible successor.

A political analyst at South Africa's Institute for Security Studies, Richard Cornwell, says he believes Mr. Yusuf's death could also spell doom for Somalia's internationally recognized-but-weak transitional federal government, or TFG.

"There is likely going to be a real struggle for power, should Abdullahi Yusuf pass from the scene. We are probably going to need to go back and look at the entire transitional arrangement," said Cornwell. "It has proved to be horribly flawed in that the TFG does not have that much legitimacy on the ground and obviously, the status quo is not viable. What this shows is that it is very unwise to depend on a 72-year-old, who has had a liver transplant, to carry the whole political system."

Meanwhile, government officials in the crisis-hit Lower Shabelle region have apparently rescinded an order by President Yusuf to restrict access to the region's roads, airport, and seaport.

On Tuesday, international aid agencies expressed deep concern about the fate of tens of thousands of people in the region, who could not receive food aid because ships were denied permission to off-load their cargo and road convoys were being stopped.

A spokesman for the United Nations' World Food Program in Nairobi, Marcus Prior, tells VOA that regional government officials began allowing food deliveries to resume Wednesday without explanation.