Somalia rival leaders agree to defer elections

KAMPALA Thu Jun 9, 2011 1:24pm EDT

Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed addresses a news conference inside his office in the capital Mogadishu, May 2, 2011. REUTERS/Feisal Omar

Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed addresses a news conference inside his office in the capital Mogadishu, May 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Feisal Omar

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KAMPALA (Reuters) - Somalia's feuding leaders agreed on Thursday to extend the mandate of a transitional government for a year rather than hold elections, a move sought by Uganda which has peacekeepers stationed in the anarchic state.

The mandate for Somalia's latest administration was meant to expire in August but President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel leader, and speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, who covets the top job, had been at loggerheads over what should happen then.

"We agree to defer elections of the President and the Speaker and his deputies for twelve months after August," a deal signed by the Somali president and speaker in Uganda said.

"Elections for President and Speaker of Parliament will have to take place prior to August 20, 2012."

The special representative to the U.N. Secretary General said the deal was a breakthrough, but it sparked protests in Mogadishu from supporters of Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed who must resign within 30 days under the agreement.

The protestors blocked main roads with burning tires and stones, chanting "we do not want the president and the speaker, we want the prime minister!"

Officials at the negotiations in the Ugandan capital Kampala told Reuters the prime minister was forced to resign to placate the speaker, who accused him of backing the president.

Political analysts said the row between the country's two most powerful politicians had halted government activity and the deal meant it could now resume.

"The first reaction internationally will probably be a collective sigh of relief," Rashid Abdi, a Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Reuters.

"There is potential for the two leaders to begin to work together and rescue this transition, but we are not out of the woods yet."

Mogadishu protester Halima Ali, 55, said prime minister had done a lot for Somalis and Hussein Osman, another protestor, said the deal would lead to a revival of al Shabaab rebels.

The rebels, seen as al Qaeda's proxy in the region, control of large parts of the country and pockets of the capital.

"This is the only government that pushed al Shabaab since President Sharif was elected," he said. "I am sure al Shabaab will get stronger and perhaps retake its positions. Selecting a new PM is just to start the whole process from square one."

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni last week called for the government extension, saying that, if there was a poll, battlefield gains against al Shabaab rebels may be undone and peacekeepers may have to pull out.

Museveni's troops form the backbone of a peacekeeping force that is all that prevents the insurgents toppling an administration plagued by corruption. Central power has effectively only stretched as far as the territory held by the peacekeepers, known as AMISOM, since 2007.

Kenya, Burundi and Djibouti backed Museveni's call, according to Augustine Mahiga, the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general.

Mahiga termed the deal a "breakthrough," and urged the bickering leaders to sell it to other politicians in Mogadishu.

Diplomats say that if foreign donors and Somalia's neighbors were to turn their backs on the nation it could become a launch pad for attacks further afield.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh; editing by James Macharia and Philippa Fletcher)

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