- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2008

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — The president of Somalia’s U.N.-backed government resigned Monday, saying he had lost control of the country to Islamic insurgents and could not fulfill his duties after four years leading the violent and impoverished nation.

Abdullahi Yusuf is the latest leader to have failed to pacify Somalia in two decades of turmoil and deadly violence. Somalia has been beset by anarchy, famine and a steady influx of weapons from abroad. More than a dozen attempts have been made to form an effective government since the last one collapsed in 1991.

Within hours of Yusuf’s resignation, mortars shells were raining down near the presidential palace in the capital, Mogadishu.

Yusuf, who is in his 70s, had announced his resignation to parliament in Baidoa — one of the only towns controlled by Somalia’s weak government, which has been sidelined by an increasingly powerful Islamic insurgency. The parliament speaker will stand in as acting president, with parliament expected to elect a new leader within 30 days.

Yusuf said in an address broadcast on radio nationwide that he could not unite Somalia’s bickering leadership, and that the country was “paralyzed.”

“Most of the country is not in our hands,” Yusuf said before leaving town from Baidoa’s airport. “After seeing all these things I have finally quit.”

Yusuf’s administration failed to bring security to the war-ravaged nation and now controls only Baidoa and pockets of Mogadishu. The most aggressive Islamic insurgency group, al-Shabab, has made dramatic territory gains in recent months, and insurgents now control most of the country.

In a statement Monday, al-Shabab said Yusuf was resigning “with shame.”

Yusuf’s resignation could usher in more political and violent chaos as various Islamic militias jockey for position and power.

Thousands of civilians have been killed or maimed by mortar shells, machine-gun crossfire and grenades in near-daily fighting in this arid, Horn of Africa country. The United Nations says Somalia has 300,000 acutely malnourished children, but attacks and kidnappings of aid workers have shut down many humanitarian projects.

The lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off the coast.

Rights groups have accused all sides in the conflict — Islamic insurgents, the government and troops from neighboring Ethiopia who are here supporting the administration — of committing war crimes and other serious abuses for indiscriminately firing on civilian neighborhoods.

The United States accuses al-Shabab of harboring the al-Qaida-linked terrorists who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Many of the insurgency’s senior figures are Islamic radicals; some are on the State Department’s list of wanted terrorists.

Yusuf’s position has been in doubt since parliament blocked his attempt to fire the Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein earlier this month.

“I am happy that the Somali president has resigned,” the prime minister said. “I wish him to become Somali elder and play a role in the common endeavor to restore peace and order in Somalia.”

Ethiopia also plans to withdraw its troops by the end of December, ending their unpopular presence here and leaving the administration even more vulnerable to insurgents. The Ethiopians have been in Somalia for nearly two years, after helping drive out an earlier group of Islamic insurgents.

Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another. The current transitional government was formed with U.N. help in 2004.

Yusuf, a former Somali army colonel in the 1960s, was jailed by Barre when he refused to cooperate in a coup d’etat in 1969. Although Yusuf is a member of one of Somalia’s four biggest clans, the Darod, he was unpopular in Mogadishu because of his ties to Ethiopia — one of Somalia’s traditional enemies.

Associated Press writers Mohamed Sheikh Nor in Mogadishu and Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.

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