Impeachment Proceedings Begun Against Somali Leader

By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, December 18, 2008

NAIROBI, Dec. 17 -- Somalia's parliament voted Wednesday to begin impeachment proceedings against President Abdullahi Yusuf, another sign that his U.S.-backed government is unraveling.

"This is the end of the government. This is it," said Mohamed Amin, a member of an opposition coalition that has a majority in parliament.

Yusuf's government began disintegrating almost from the start two years ago, when it was installed with the might of the Ethiopian army and help from the United States.

At the time, the United States and Ethiopia viewed Yusuf -- a warlord known as a tough and wily survivor -- as a viable alternative to an Islamist movement that had taken over the capital of Mogadishu and that they accused of having links to al-Qaeda. The transitional government and its elaborate system of clan representation was to be Somalia's first functioning central government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator and then turned on one another.

But Yusuf quickly proved to be a brutal leader devoted to the interests of his own clan, and his forces have killed and kidnapped political opponents, among the human rights abuses that other parties to the conflict also carried out.

Yusuf and his Ethiopian backers have faced a relentless insurgency made up of clan militias and, increasingly, a radical Islamist faction known as al-Shabab. The group, which the United States has designated a terrorist organization, has in recent months advanced on cities and towns across a swath of southern Somalia and much of Mogadishu. Yusuf's forces control just a few blocks in the capital.

Now the president is losing what tenuous political support he had.

The Ethiopians announced last month that they would withdraw from Somalia at the end of the year. U.S. and U.N. officials appear to be shifting their support to his main rival, Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, who helped broker a peace deal that in theory gives substantial power to an opposition coalition. Yusuf fired Hussein this week, but the parliament rejected the move and voted to extend his term.

On Wednesday, lawmakers accused Yusuf of blocking the reconciliation process and voted to begin the process for his removal.

"He is committing suicide in terms of his political calculation," said Ali Said, director of the Center for Peace and Democracy, a Somali group operating in exile in Nairobi that promotes democratic government and human rights. "He will become isolated."

One U.S. official put it more bluntly. "Yusuf is finished," the official said on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned this week that Somalia could descend into "chaos" when the Ethiopian troops leave the country, and efforts to rally a U.N. peacekeeping force to replace them have been unsuccessful.

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