SOMALIA: Prime minister quits; violence rocks Mogadishu

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Ali Mohamed Gedi has resigned as Somalia’s prime minister after an ongoing power struggle between him and the country’s president Abdullahi Yusuf Hassan.

"He handed in his letter this morning and the president has officially accepted his resignation," minister of information Madobe Nuunow Mohamed told IRIN on 29 October from the town of Baidoa, 250km southwest of the capital Mogadishu.

A civil society source said this was an opportunity for the government to reinvent itself. "Personnel changes alone won’t do," he said. "There must be a policy change as well. They must now aggressively pursue reconciliation as a matter of urgency. It is the only thing that can save this country."

Meanwhile, thousands more civilians fled their homes and more than 30 people were killed after some of the worst fighting - between Islamist rebels and allied Ethiopian-Somali government troops - Mogadishu has seen in weeks.

"There are thousands leaving the city as we speak. I cannot put a figure to it but I don’t think we have seen this scale of displaced before," Madina Mahamud Ilmi, the deputy head of the civil society taskforce for the displaced said.

Shells strike city

The three districts of Hodan, Hawl-Wadag and Wardhigley [south Mogadishu] were most affected by the latest fighting, which began on 27 October. A local journalist said the displaced were seeking safety in other parts of the city after heavy shelling.

"I don’t think they know where they are going. It is a very confused situation and everybody is trying to get out of the way," he said. "I saw displaced women with their children sitting on the side of the road taking a rest before moving on. They looked tired, confused and frightened."

A call by Mogadishu’s mayor on 28 October for residents to leave areas where security operations were ongoing "did not help the situation", he added.

Medical sources told IRIN that the death toll in the two days of fighting could rise well above 50. "So far some 35 people have been reported dead and over 100 wounded," he said. "These are the ones who made it into hospitals in the city. Many people died in their homes and were buried in their compounds."

Other eyewitnesses said bodies were still lying on the streets - including both fighters and civilians. "No one can get to them because they [snipers] are shooting anyone that moves in that area [Hodan]," said one resident.

Local witnesses said Ethiopian troops fired on demonstrators, including women and schoolchildren, who took to the streets on 28 October protesting against their presence. The protesters had built up barricades of burned tyres and were shouting anti-Ethiopian slogans.

Lost support

Before his resignation, sources said, Gedi had lost much of his support within the government and in the international arena.

On 11 October, 22 ministers signed a letter demanding a vote of no confidence in the government, accusing Gedi of incompetence.

Shortly after meeting the president, Gedi, who had been prime minister since November 2004, briefed parliament on his resignation and left for the airport. "He is on way to Nairobi to brief Kenyan officials," Mohamed said.

The minister of information also said that parliament was expected to debate the recommendations of the National Reconciliation Conference, held in Mogadishu in July, before any announcement on Gedi’s replacement.

Among the suggestions from the conference was that the prime minister could be appointed from outside parliament. Currently, any potential prime minister must be a member of parliament.

Source: IRIN