Somalia's parliament meets as calls for peace get louder
Somalia's parliament met in neighbouring Djibouti on Saturday to discuss how to include the moderate Islamist opposition in a new government that can try and bring peace to the Horn of Africa nation.
After more than four years in office, a Western-backed interim government has failed to establish stability in a country where more than 16,000 people have been killed in the past two years and the chaos onshore has fuelled rampant piracy.
The international community has been urging Somalis to settle their differences, expand the parliament and elect a new president next week, in time for a summit of regional leaders.
Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the moderate Islamist leader from the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), told the legislators it was time to join forces, oppose the perpetrators of violence and end the bloodshed.
"This is a day to correct past mistakes. We have to take this historic opportunity," he told the opening of the talks. "There's no excuse for Somalis to kill each other."
He later announced his candidacy for president, telling reporters it was a great honour to have been picked by the ARS, before cheering supporters hoisted him onto their shoulders.
The international community hopes a more inclusive Somali administration will be able to reach out to armed groups who are still fighting the interim government and targeting African Union (AU) peacekeepers in the capital Mogadishu.
The challenge ahead was underlined on Saturday by the worst insurgent attack for weeks. A policeman and 13 civilians were killed in Mogadishu when a suicide car bomb aimed at the AU soldiers missed its target.
The AU's special envoy to Somalia, Nicolas Bwakira, condemned the attack as "barbaric" and warned Somali politicians the peacekeepers could leave if they failed to make progress.
"We have no reason to be in Somalia to provide protection and support to institutions that do not exist, that do not deliver to their people," he said.
The United Nations' envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, was also in threatening mood, saying it was time to think about sending those fuelling the violence to the International Criminal Court. He urged the politicians to make fast progress.
"This has to end," he told the legislators. "It's not going to be business as usual."
But while the UN wants the politicians to stick to the tight timeline for electing a new president, some members of the government and the ARS are saying they need time to discuss how to bring in other militant opposition groups.
The more militant Islamist wing of the ARS based in Eritrea has so far refused to join the peace process. The hardline Islamist group Al Shabaab, which wants to impose their strict version of Islamic law in Somalia, has also refused.
"We have to discuss what approach we will take to bring in the other opposition," said member of parliament Mohamed Mohamud Guled. "Without them we won't be able to resolve this."
The first step is for the 275-member Somali parliament to amend the constitutional charter so up to 200 ARS members can join. The new assembly is then expected to elect a new president to replace Abdullahi Yusuf who quit in December.
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