Somalia's transitional leadership is struggling to form a new government, following the resignation of former president Abdullahi Yusuf, and trying to prevent Islamist extremists from taking control as Ethiopian troops withdraw.  Somalia's two top leaders are on a whirlwind tour of East African capitals.

Somalia's prime minister and acting president flew from Addis Ababa to Nairobi as they try to shore up their weak transitional government and prevent a security vacuum as Ethiopia withdraws the troops that helped keep them in power for the past two years. 

In an airport interview after three days of talks with Ethiopian officials, Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, widely known as Nur Adde, said lawmakers are faced with a tough choice.

"There are two options, one is to have the election within 30 days on the basis of the transitional charter, and at the same time there is this issue of Djibouti agreement which provides an enlargement of the parliament and a national unity government and election of the leadership," he said.  "So this is not yet finalized, it is up to the parliament to decide."

Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin was at the airport to bid farewell to his guests.  In a VOA interview, Seyoum said that as the current head of the East African regional grouping IGAD, he had urged Somalia's leaders to put aside the Djibouti accord and immediately choose a new president.

"As IGAD we have pronounced ourselves that the charter must be respected in letter and spirit, because that is the only legal instrument that provides legitimacy to the transitional arrangement," said Mesfin.

Seyoum spoke as Ethiopian troops are winding up a two-year effort to prop up the transitional administration in the face of a violent insurgency led by the Islamic extremist al-Shabab group.  Many observers fear al-Shabab could capture the capital, Mogadishu and impose Sharia law in a country that has been ungovernable for 17 years.

But the Ethiopian minister said reports of al-Shabab's strength have been greatly exaggerated.

"I assure you al-Shabab is running from left to right, simply because the government has not established proper local administrations throughout Somalia," said Seyoum.  "So al-Shabab, even 10 armed people can create havoc throughout the country because the government has not been able to extend its infrastructure and administration in the rest of the country, so that is a limitation."

Somalia's Speaker of Parliament and acting President Sheikh Adan Muhammad Nur, known as Sheiikh Madobe, admitted fending off the Islamist extremists would be a challenge for government troops.  Speaking to VOA in Somali, he said it is time for the international community to make good on past pledges of  support.

"There are extremist groups like al-Shabab and it is obvious that they are a challenge.  We would not have a vacuum due to the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops," he said.  "We call upon the international community and our African brothers to be true to their word and bring in the forces they promised, and of course the TFG will have their own forces to fill the gap."

The two Somali leaders will be in Nairobi for the next few days for talks with representatives of the international community on ways of augmenting the 3,400-strong African Union peacekeeping force.

But Speaker Madobe acknowledged the U.N. Security Council has been cool to repeated pleas for a more robust international force.

East African diplomats, meanwhile, are predicting an intense struggle for control of the transitional government among Somalia's clan-based factions. Several senior figures are said to be jockeying for the post of president, including the current prime minister, Nur Adde, and his predecessor, Mohammed Ali Gedi, who was ousted in a power struggle with former president Yusuf last year.