Somalia’s prime minister resigns amid tensions

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Somalia’s prime minister resigned Tuesday after months of turmoil with the country’s president, saying their infighting had become a “security vulnerability” in a country battling an Islamic insurgency and rampant piracy.

The political shakeup, though, was unlikely to have much practical effect on Somalia’s weak government, which controls only a few blocks of the capital and comes under near-daily attack from al Qaeda-linked militants.

Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke told reporters he was resigning while standing alongside President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who thanked the prime minister for what he called a “courageous decision.”

“After seeing that the political turmoil between me and the president has caused security vulnerability, I have decided to resign to save the nation and give a chance to others,” the prime minister said.

The resignation comes amid a rift between Mr. Sharmarke and Mr. Ahmed over a new draft constitution. The two have not gotten along for months, and a vote of confidence on the prime minister had been scheduled over the weekend, though it was postponed. The two have a history of conflict: the president fired Mr. Sharmarke in May but quickly retracted the dismissal.

Mr. Ahmed called Mr. Sharmarke’s decision “historic” because the impasse was settled among Somalis instead of seeking outside intervention. Mr. Sharmarke, who holds a Canadian passport, became prime minister in February 2009 after the government signed a deal with opposition groups led by Mr. Ahmed.

The prime minister appeared far from downcast as he announced his resignation. Mr. Sharmarke smiled and waved to reporters as he left the press conference, which was well-attended by members of parliament and Cabinet members. The current Cabinet members will lose their posts with Mr. Sharmarke’s resignation; the next prime minister will name a new Cabinet.

“Both men looked very happy. I was not expecting them to look so. There must be a hidden agenda they have agreed to,” said Mowlid Maane, a parliamentarian, commenting on rumors swirling through Mogadishu that Mr. Sharmarke was paid to go away quietly.

Mr. Ahmed said he will build a new government soon.

“Now the recent political turmoil has ended and the government is gone. Let us wait and see what is next. I hope an effective government that saves this nation,” said Abdirashid Hidig, the state minister for domestic affairs.

Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years.

When Mr. Ahmed picked Mr. Sharmarke, a Western-educated technocrat and son of a popular Somali leader who was assassinated in 1969, many thought the pair would help propel the country forward and convince Islamist rebels to join the government.

But rebels dismissed the idea of joining a Western-backed government and continued their attacks.

Analysts say the lack of clear job descriptions between the prime minister and president helped fuel rifts. Since its formation in 2004 in neighboring Kenya, the fragile government has seen the resignation of two prime ministers and one president. Each time the top two leaders were sparring over power and seniority.

“The removal of Sharmarke will not change a single iota of the current situation of the government in Somalia,” said Rashid Abdi, a Somali expert with the International Crisis Group. “It will be only a matter of time before we have another crisis. The Somali leaders are trapped in a system that allows both the president and the prime minister executive powers. … It is neither parliamentary nor presidential.”

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