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Somalis Cheer the Change in US Leadership

Embracing Barack Obama as a fellow African, many residents of Somalia's war-weary capital Mogadishu say they expect the new U.S. president to act more positively toward Somalia than his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Mogadishu resident Mowlid Abdi Abdullah says he has never been interested in watching the inauguration ceremony of a U.S. president before. But he says Tuesday's inauguration of Barack Obama as the first black man to be sworn into the office was an event he could not miss.

Abdullah says Barack Obama is a son of Africa and as Africans, Somalis support the new president wholeheartedly. He says there is great hope among Somalis that Mr. Obama will make changes that can help bring peace to the long-suffering country.

President Obama inherits in Somalia what is arguably one of the most complex and difficult crises in the world today.

In late 2006, focused on countering the rise of a terrorist movement in the Horn of Africa, the Bush administration actively supported an Ethiopian-led military campaign to oust Islamists from power and to install a secular-but-weak government in Mogadishu.

More than two years of rebellion against what was widely perceived as an Ethiopian occupation turned the country into the world's worst humanitarian disaster. Currently, more than 40 percent of the population is dependent on food aid. Nearly one-and-a-half million people are internally displaced and 400,000 others have sought refuge in neighboring countries. Some 16,000 others have been killed.

Several U.S. missile strikes targeting suspected al-Qaida terrorists inside Somalia have deepened Somali resentment of the United States and helped fuel the recruiting activities of al-Shabab, the militant al-Qaida-linked group the United States had hoped to neutralize in 2006.

In a display of the reach al-Shabab now boasts, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday issued a joint statement warning of a possible attack by al-Shabab militants to disrupt the inauguration celebrations in Washington.

In Mogadishu, social activists like Saeeda Mohamed she is hopeful that President Obama will overhaul the U.S. policy toward Somalia to help begin a new relationship with the Somali people.

Mohamed says President Obama has a window of opportunity to improve the situation in Somalia by not repeating the mistakes made by the previous administration.

In a recent report critical of the United States' role in Somalia thus far, New York-based Human Rights Watch called on the Obama administration to formulate a policy that incorporates the input of civilians and humanitarian workers on the ground, and to place priority on supporting humanitarian assistance and defending human rights in Somalia.