Page 2 of 2   <      

President Of Somalia Steps Down Amid Pressure

The U.S. State Department issued a statement supporting Yusuf's resignation and urging implementation of the Djibouti deal.

On the ground, however, a bleaker scenario was already unfolding, one best expressed by a Somali lawmaker who was busy Monday evacuating his staff members, money, family and possessions from Baidoa, where Somalia's fractious parliament seemed to be disintegrating further by the hour.

The lawmaker, Abdul Kadir Nur Arale, a Yusuf supporter, had already evacuated to Nairobi, in neighboring Kenya.

"The militiamen in the area and the Shabab, they all feel that now is the time to act," Arale said. "It is time for the scramble for power."

The speaker of parliament will assume the presidency until lawmakers choose a new leader, which is supposed to happen within 30 days. It is unclear, however, whether the 275-member parliament will be able to muster the necessary numbers to do so, as Yusuf's supporters leave and others flee.

Yusuf flew Monday to his home in the northern region of Puntland, and many predicted that members of his clan, the Darod, would follow him there, abandoning positions in government and setting the stage for another period of all-out clan warfare. Others speculated that Puntland would declare independence, as the neighboring region of Somaliland has done. Some Somali leaders say they are done with the idea of a strong central government, believing that the only viable form of government is a decentralized federation of clan-based regions.

Not long after Yusuf's announcement Monday, mortar shells were being fired around Mogadishu, according to the Reuters news agency. In recent days, clan militias have been gearing up, buying guns at the local market, where the price of an AK-47 assault rifle is a reliable barometer of coming conflict. In the past week, it has nearly doubled, with many in the capital expecting that the Shabab will attempt to advance.

"The Shabab will probably make a push, but Yusuf being there would have only made things worse," said a Western diplomat in the region who was not authorized to speak publicly, adding that a total collapse of the government "is certainly a possibility."

While Yusuf's resignation represents the failure of one more central government in Somalia, it also represents one more failure of U.S. policy in a region where American officials have long worried about the threat of terrorism.

The primary aim of the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion that installed Yusuf's internationally recognized transitional federal government was to dislodge a relatively diverse Islamist movement that had taken over Mogadishu. But two years later, the most radical wing of the ousted Islamist movement has emerged stronger, more battle-hardened and better-financed than ever.

In addition, six known U.S. airstrikes inside Somalia have mostly stoked anti-U.S. sentiment. The strikes were aimed at alleged al-Qaeda operatives, including the alleged perpetrators of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. But only one target, a Shabab leader, has been confirmed killed.

Meanwhile, Yusuf leaves behind a humanitarian crisis that some U.N. officials describe as the worst in the world, if measured by unmet need. Thousands of people have been killed and more than a million others displaced across the drought-stricken country.

Still, Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, who has led the efforts this year to find a political solution to the problem, put a brave face on the situation Monday.

Hussein had been at odds with Yusuf, and he welcomed his resignation.

"I am happy that the Somali president has resigned," Hussein told the Associated Press. "I wish him to become a Somali elder and play a role in the common endeavor to restore peace and order in Somalia."

Special correspondent Mohamed Ibrahim in Nairobi contributed to this report.


<       2

© 2008 The Washington Post Company