Somalia News

New Somali PM vows to tackle security crisis

* Islamist militants fighting to topple govt

* Elections in August 2011 unlikely - analyst

MOGADISHU, Nov 1 (Reuters) - A new prime minister took charge of Somalia’s besieged government on Monday promising to focus his efforts on tackling insecurity, but street battles in the capital underscored the huge scale of his task.

Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, whose appointment was approved by lawmakers on Sunday, acknowledged he faced a “monumental” challenge. His predecessor quit in September as the head of the government, whose control extends only to less than half of the mortar-pocked capital Mogadishu.

“(I) will soon form a government that will make its priority security ... and completing the transitional tasks outlined in the charter,” Mohamed said at his swearing in ceremony, according to a statement from his office.

Mohamed inherits an administration that depends on African Union (AU) peacekeepers for its survival. The lawless nation has been mired in violence and awash with weapons since the ousting of a dictator in 1991.

Western security agents say Somalia is a fertile breeding ground for Islamist militants and is attracting increasing numbers of foreign jihadists.

Under the terms of a 2009 U.N.-brokered peace process, the Transitional Federal Government’s mandate expires in August 2011. By then it is supposed to have held a referendum on a new constitution and a nationwide general election.

But most political analysts are pessimistic Mohamed, a U.S.-educated former diplomat, and President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel, will meet that deadline.

“There will be no chance for elections. They can hold elections in the few blocks of Mogadishu the AU controls for them if they like, but that is it,” said Abdi Samatar, a Somalia expert at the University of Minnesota. On Sunday night and Monday insurgents from the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab movement clashed with government troops and peacekeepers in Mogadishu’s northern districts, killing at least 11 civilians, a rights body said.

“Fighting and terrible shelling took place for many hours. Residents have been fleeing from those areas although some insist on remaining because they cannot afford to move and pay the water bill and rent,” Ali Yasin Gedi, chairman of the Elman rights group, told Reuters.

A spokesman for the peacekeeping force, known as AMISOM, said one Ugandan soldier was wounded in the fighting. (Additional reporting and writing by Richard Lough in Nairobi; Editing by James Macharia and Peter Graff)