Somalia PM steps down to resolve leadership spat
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MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Following months of political bickering in a country battling a relentless Islamic insurgency, Somali Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke resigned Tuesday, as fighting rattled across the seaside capital of Mogadishu and talks began to form a new government.
Mr. Sharmarke's decision ended a dispute with President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed over a draft constitution for a nation mired in civil war against al-Qaida-backed militants, who control all but a few blocks of the capital. The prime minister's departure is not expected to change the country's course significantly, but it gives the Western-backed Mr. Ahmed a chance to assemble a new Cabinet.
Despite help from more than 6,000 African Union troops, the transitional Somali government -- with an army of underpaid and discouraged soldiers -- has been unable to defeat militants of the Al-Shabab movement. The insurgents have killed scores of aid workers and carried out suicide bombings and political assassinations, such as an attack on a hotel in August that killed at least 31 people, including six lawmakers.
Mr. Sharmarke told reporters Tuesday that he didn't want his differences with the president to jeopardize security. "After considering the current insecurity in the country and the outstanding political crises between me and the president, I have decided to resign my position as prime minister for the sake of my nation's survival," he said. "It's not a secret that me and the president do not see eye to eye. We had a bit of a political storm."
Mr. Ahmed, who had been orchestrating an attempt to oust the prime minister in a vote of no confidence in the parliament, accepted Mr. Sharmarke's resignation, calling it a "courageous decision."
The animosity between Mr. Sharmarke and Mr. Ahmed had been preoccupying the government for months. In May, Mr. Ahmed announced that he had fired Mr. Sharmarke. Days later, after questions arose over the legality of removing the prime minister, Mr. Ahmed reversed his decision.
Mr. Sharmarke resumed his duties, but new tensions arose this month over differences in adopting a new constitution. Mr. Ahmed and Mr. Sharmarke, whose father, Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, was president when he was assassinated in 1969, went for weeks without meeting or speaking over the phone.
There has been confusion over the job descriptions of the two positions. The president has the power to appoint the government, including the prime minister, based on parliamentary approval.
"There was a strong disagreement between both sides over a draft constitution, and there may be other issues between them," Information Ministry official Mahad Mohamed Istiila said after the resignation. "The president and the premier haven't been working together for the past months."
First Published September 22, 2010 12:00 am