MOGADISHU Somalia's Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke resigned on Tuesday, paying the price for the government's failure to rein in an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians.
Thousands of African Union peacekeeping troops have been sent to support the interim administration, but hardline militants now control much of the capital Mogadishu and huge chunks of the country's south and central regions.
Somalia's Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been beset by internal divisions that observers say have slowed government business to a crawl.
"After considering the political crisis in the government and increasing insecurity in Somalia, I have decided to resign from my post as prime minister," Sharmarke told reporters, flanked by President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed.
Ahmed said he welcomed Sharmarke's decision to quit and said he would nominate a new prime minister as soon as possible.
Last week, Ahmed said Sharmarke had failed to resolve the conflict and that numerous cabinet reshuffles had yielded no improvements.
The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants have stepped up their offensive to topple the government in the last six weeks, using suicide bomb attacks with deadly effect.
In the latest attack, a suicide bomber tried to force his way into the presidential palace on Monday night, wounding two African Union peacekeepers when he blew himself up outside the compound's gates.
Deputy Prime Minister Abdi Wahid Gonjeh said Sharmarke's departure would bring some stability to the interim administration. "The resignation of the PM brings progress. Now we are not going to be sitting on chairs that have titles with no meaning," Gonjeh told Reuters.
Some Somalia analysts are more skeptical about whether a new prime minister will change the direction of Somali politics.
They say the beleaguered Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel, has been looking for a scapegoat as he tries to reassert his authority over a brittle administration and disillusioned nation.
Parliament had been due to hold a vote of confidence on Sharmarke's leadership on Saturday but there were insufficient lawmakers to form a quorum and the session was postponed.
(Additional reporting by Abdi Guled in Mogadishu and Sarah Abdi in Nairobi; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by David Stamp)