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Somali Region Gets New President After Deadly Election Campaign

Newly elected Somalia's autonomous South West State President Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed, left, delivers his speech after being elected among five candidates by legislators in Baidoa, Somalia, Dec. 19, 2018.

Lawmakers in Somalia's South West region elected a new president Wednesday, with a former leader of militant group al-Shabab kept off the ballot despite angry protests last week from supporters.

Officials confirmed to VOA that Somalia's former state minister for trade, Abdiaziz Hassan Mohamed, also known as Lafta Gareen, is the region's new leader. Mohamed won 101 out of 147 votes from regional lawmakers, defeating three other candidates.

Analysts predicted the victory of Mohamed last week after Mukhtar Robow, the former spokesman and deputy leader of al-Shabab, was arrested by Somali police in the region's main town, Baidoa, and taken to Mogadishu.

FILE - Former al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow attends a news conference in Baidoa, Somalia, Nov. 4, 2018.
FILE - Former al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow attends a news conference in Baidoa, Somalia, Nov. 4, 2018.

Somalia's federal government banned Robow from running in the election, noting that he is subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions. They also accused him of being a security threat.

At least 12 people were killed in Baidoa in violence that erupted following Robow's arrest. Among those killed was a member of the regional parliament.

Robow defected to the government in August 2017, five years after leaving al-Shabab due to disputes with the group's then-emir, Ahmed Godane.

Wednesday's election was peaceful, with security in Baidoa strengthened by hundreds of Ethiopian troops who form part of the African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM) in Somalia. The Ethiopians were seen helping Somali security forces cordon off most of the town to prevent the outbreak of more protests.

Runner-up Aden Saransoor congratulated Mohamed on his victory and said he looks forward to working closely with the new regional leader. "The election was free and fair, and I congratulate the winner and look forward to working with him," Saransoor said.