Publication Date: 
Sat, 2009-02-14 03:00

DJIBOUTI: Somalia’s new president yesterday chose Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the foreign-based son of a murdered former leader, to be prime minister in a unity government intended to end civil conflict.

Sharmarke’s nomination drew wide approval among many Somalis but condemnation by local rebels.

“We welcome him,” said Sheikh Abdiqadir Ali, a clan elder in the Puntland region where Sharmarke is from. “He was not involved in Somali politics and we are sure he will bring peace.”

But Sheikh Hassan Yucqub, a spokesman for the Al Shabaab group which is fighting the government of President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, mocked the naming: “An unlawful camel never gives birth to lawful ones.”

Underlining the difficulty of the task awaiting Sharmarke and Ahmed, an Al-Qaeda leader urged jihad against the Western-backed Islamic government. “Aim your arrows toward them ... direct your battles against them and intensify your campaign,” Abu Yahya Al-Libi said in a video released on websites yesterday.

Washington says Al Shabaab is Al-Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia, and the group is known to have foreign fighters in its ranks.

Ahmed formally nominated Sharmarke at a ceremony in Djibouti, where Somali politicians are meeting. “The Parliament is expected to endorse him tomorrow,” said a statement from the United Nations, which is brokering the talks.

In his brief acceptance speech, Sharmarke admitted he faced numerous challenges and vowed to work toward reconciliation.

Educated in the United States, Sharmarke has held various UN posts including as a political adviser on the Darfur conflict. He is the son of Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, an elected president shot dead in 1969 before a military coup.

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