Besieged Somali leader declares state of emergency

Mustafa Haji Abdinur

Somalia's president on Monday declared a state of emergency in a bid to contain a deadly six-week-old insurgent offensive.

Somalia’s president, clinging to power by his fingernails in his Mogadishu palace, on Monday declared a state of emergency in a bid to contain a deadly six-week-old insurgent offensive.

Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s announcement came amid growing talk of fresh foreign military action to flush out hard-line Islamist groups, less than six months after Ethiopia ended a two-year intervention that failed to do just that.

The measure should have little impact on the ground in a country plagued by chaos since 1991 and over which Sharif’s forces have no control but could facilitate his administration’s request for foreign military assistance.

“As of today, the country is under a state of emergency,” Sharif said at press conference in the capital, during a brief lull in fighting that has killed at least 300 people nationwide since May 7.

The president said the government had decided to announce the emergency “after witnessing the intensifying violence across the country”.

According to a presidential aide, the decree still has to be approved by Parliament to be officially effective. It was not immediately clear where and when the National Assembly would convene.

On Monday, the African Union reiterated its concern and gave its blessing to Somalia’s appeal for foreign backing.

AU Commission chairperson Jean Ping said the Somali government “has the right to seek support from AU member states and the larger international community”.

On Sunday, the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference called for urgent international action to suppress the assault that has also displaced 130 000.

“It has become inevitable that the international community should intervene immediately to support the transitional government, re-establish order and lighten the suffering of innocent civilians,” Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said.

The previous day, Somalia’s Parliament speaker had launched a desperate appeal for foreign assistance.

“The government is weakened by the rebel forces. We ask neighbouring countries—including Kenya, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Yemen—to send troops to Somalia within 24 hours,” Sheikh Aden Mohamed Nur told reporters.

In 2006, Ethiopia invaded Somalia to remove an Islamist rebellion led by Sharif and Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

When it pulled out earlier this year, having failed to stabilise the country and significantly strengthen the internationally backed transitional government, Ethiopia warned it could return at any time should hardliners threaten to take control.

But Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon reacted to the Somali speaker’s call Saturday by insisting that his country would not make its move without international backing.

“Any further action from Ethiopia regarding Somalia will be done according to international community decision,” he said.

Ethiopian troops were reported to have beefed-up their presence at the border with western Somalia in recent days.

On May 7, an unprecedented anti-government offensive was launched by al-Shabaab, a hard-line armed group suspected of ties to al-Qaeda, and Hezb al-Islam, a more political movement led by Aweys, Sharif’s ally-turned-foe.

The fighting has focused on central regions, where Sharif’s Islamic Courts Union is well represented, and Mogadishu, where he has owed his survival mainly to the protection of African Union peacekeepers.

The Somali security minister, a lawmaker and the Mogadishu police chief were killed in three successive days last week, drawing a barrage of international condemnation.

Somalia has been without an effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody power struggle that has defied at least a dozen peace initiatives.—AFP

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