Somali legislators debate move to oust PM

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BAIDOA, Somalia, Oct 16 (Reuters) Somalia's parliament today began debating the president's effort to fire his prime minister, the latest battle in the political war between the rival leaders.

Parliamentarians met as Somali soldiers and their Ethiopian allies patrolled outside the open-air warehouse that serves as their legislature in the south-central trading town Baidoa.

The power struggle has momentarily shifted the focus away from a persistent Islamist insurgency in Mogadishu and a growing conflict between the government-allied region of Puntland and the breakaway republic of Somaliland.

The president of Puntland today admitted his soldiers had been beaten in the battle for Las Anod, a village in territory it has periodically fought over with neighbouring Somaliland in the north of the Horn of Africa nation.

Puntland troops were headed toward the Puntland capital of Garowe. Somaliland has warned against any counter-attack, and has troops about 45 km (25 miles) away from Garowe.

Debate among the 227 legislators present in Baidoa centered on whether parliament would decide the question of when Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi's 30-month mandate should expire.

President Abdullahi Yusuf and allies, including 22 ministers in Gedi's cabinet, argue it ended on Friday.

Though not technically a no-confidence vote, one of which Gedi survived last year, the move is shaping up to have the same effect.

''If two-and-a-half years becomes the issue and the majority of lawmakers vote on that, then Gedi's regime will fall,'' lawmaker Ali Basha, a Yusuf ally, told Reuters.

Gedi argues he has another 14 months based on a constitutional technicality.

But the attorney general -- a Yusuf ally -- ordered Somalia's chief justice jailed on corruption charges last month, leaving only legislators to answer the constitutional question.

FEUD FROM START Gedi and Yusuf, both of whom came to power with Ethiopian packing in late 2004 at peace talks in Kenya, have feuded almost from the start.

They first split over who was getting what money from donors, and earlier this year a truce dissolved when the backed rival parties seeking to exploit Somalia's oil potential.

Parliamentary leaders late on Tuesday said legislators on Wednesday would make statements before voting on whether to decide the Gedi question or return to normal business.

Over the past several days, both sides have been making their case and observers and politicians have reported money and favours changing hands.

Diplomats privately say they expect Gedi to lose the vote or step down, the latter of which he has denied will happen.

Western and regional governments have pushed the transitional government forward as the best hope of creating a national authority in Somalia. But diplomats have expressed frustration at its progress.

Thirteen previous attempts have failed since dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's ousting in 1991.

REUTERS RSA KN2309

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