Somali parliament votes out speaker

MOGADISHU (AP) — The Somali parliament stripped the speaker position from a top lawmaker closely associated with the recently ousted Islamist movement, a move the European Union said was disappointing and could hurt reconciliation efforts in the restive country.

Diplomats said that former speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, fired Wednesday, was capable of pulling together moderate elements in Somalia’s Islamist movement. Wednesday also saw the government’s disarmament efforts receive a boost with three major warlords handing over vehicles and men.

Deputy Speaker Osman Ilmi Boqore announced, in proceedings broadcast live on HornAfrik Radio, that parliament voted to strip Aden of the speaker’s position. Lawmakers cited his public criticism of a proposed African peacekeeping mission that parliament had endorsed and his meetings with Islamist movement leaders without authority from parliament.

Boqore said that only nine of the lawmakers present voted against the motion. Voting in favour were 183 lawmakers — 44 more than required — in the 275-member parliament Aden’s actions have been in “total violation of our transitional charter,” lawmaker Mohamoud Begos told the Associated Press by phone from Baidoa, where parliament is based.

Abdullahi Mohammad Mohammad, an aide to Aden based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, said that Aden was in Rome when the vote took place.

Aden had made several freelance peace initiatives with Somalia’s Islamist movement before government forces — with key help from Ethiopian troops — ousted them in December from the capital, Mogadishu, and much of southern Somalia.

In Belgium Wednesday, European Union spokesman Amadeu Altafaj Tadio expressed disappointment at the Somali parliament’s move against Aden, who held meetings with EU officials in Belgium earlier this week.

“We saw him as a someone who could make a bridge with the moderate elements,” Altafaj said. “We had encouraged him to go back to Mogadishu to carry out his job and bring together as many political players as possible.” Michael E. Ranneberger, the US ambassador to Kenya, told reporters in Nairobi Wednesday before the vote, that Aden was “the kind of person who could pull people together.” The US encourages dialogue in Somalia, including with a key Islamist leader like Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who is seen as a moderate, Ranneberger said.

“If he [Ahmad] wanted to play a positive role that should be a possibility. He is a recognised moderate,” said Ranneberger, whose portfolio includes Somalia.

In the past year, Aden has differed with President Abdullahi Yusuf and Prime Minister Ali Mohammad Gedi over the location of the government and whether peacekeepers were needed. According to Somalia’s transitional charter, parliament has to vote on all major government decisions before they can be implemented.

On Wednesday, Gedi told parliament that he ruled out peace talks with the Islamist movement and hoped to see the first African peacekeepers in Somalia by month’s end. So far only Uganda has committed to contributing troops and few others have shown enthusiasm for a proposed 8,000-strong African mission to bolster the government’s attempt to create law and order.

A peacekeeping mission could face some violence, something that may deter many countries from committing soldiers.

There has been sporadic fighting since the government took over Mogadishu on December 28. Leaders of the Islamist movement have pledged to carry on a guerrilla war as long as Ethiopian troops remain in Somalia.

A UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia in the 1990s saw clashes between foreign troops and Somali warlords’ fighters, including the notorious downings of two US military Black Hawk helicopters in 1993. The US withdrew from Somalia in 1994, and that was followed a year later by the departure of UN peacekeepers.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991 when warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohammad Siad Barre and then turned on each other, reducing this Horn of Africa nation to anarchy and clan-based violence. The Yusuf-Gedi government emerged from regional, UN-backed talks in 2004 and has since struggled to assert authority.

Wednesday, three warlords who once held sway over parts of Mogadishu handed over at least 40 pickups fitted with machine-guns to the government.

One warlord, Mohammad Qanyare Afrah, said that 700 of his militiamen had agreed to be absorbed into government forces. Another one, Muse Sudi Yalahow, said that his militiamen had also agreed to join the government forces, though he declined to say how many.

The third warlord, Interior Minister Hussein Aided, also said that he had handed over pickups and his militiamen had joined government forces but did not say how many.

Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said the warlords’ move opened “a new era for the Somali people.”  

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