- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 1, 2012

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Somali leaders voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to adopt a new constitution that contains more individual rights and sets the country on a course for a more powerful and representative government.

The vote was held after two thunderous blasts at the gates of the meeting site from a failed suicide attack.

For more than a week, 825 Somali leaders, including the 645 voting delegates of the National Constituent Assembly, debated the constitution, which the assembly approved with 621 delegates for, 13 against and 11 abstentions.

The constitution, some eight years in the making, makes it clear that Islamic law is the basis for Somalia’s legal foundation. No religion other than Islam can be propagated in the country, and all laws must comply with Shariah, or Islamic, law.

The constitution protects the right to an abortion to save the life of the mother and bans the circumcision of girls, a common practice in Somalia that opponents call female genital mutilation.

“Today, Somalia has put its feet onto a democratic and peaceful path. The new constitution will heal Somalia from war trauma and put it onto a more peaceful life,” said Abshir Abdi, an assembly attendant.

The U.N. hopes to transition the country to a more representative form of government, but nationwide or even regional elections appear to be years away.

Still, the top U.N. representative to Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said that a more representative era for Somalia is about to start after the vote by Somali leaders, or elders.

“Through their good work, the elders have proven their reputation as the custodians of the Somali nationhood and demonstrated their respect for a fair and legitimate process,” he said.

Security concerns

The delegates voted about two hours after two suicide bombers tried to attack the Mogadishu meeting.

A police officer said security forces shot the two bombers at the gate to the meeting area. The two bombers were killed, and one Somali soldier was wounded, said Abdi Yassin, a police officer.

The explosions are reminders that even as Somalia continues down a slow path of re-establishing a functioning government after two decades of near anarchy in this East African nation, al-Shabab militants who were pushed out of the capital last year still can infiltrate Mogadishu and wreak havoc.

Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said the vote by the National Constituent Assembly means that Somalia has ended its period of transitional government.

The U.N. mandate for Somalia’s current government — the Transitional Federal Government — expires Aug. 20. Somali leaders were tasked with voting on the constitution, voting in a 275-member parliament and electing a president before that date.

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