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Al-Qaeda-linked cleric to lead Somali opposition

A hard-line Somali Islamist accused of ties to al-Qaeda claimed leadership of the country’s fractured opposition on Tuesday, highlighting a bitter power struggle within the movement.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, an influential cleric designated as a terrorist by Washington, was elected head of the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS) in a meeting in the Eritrean capital, an ally to Aweys said.

”We have elected Aweys as the head of the alliance,” the official said on condition of anonymity.

”The appointment of the new leaders will enhance the liberation of Somalia from the occupation of Ethiopia and the puppets proclaimed by Addis Ababa,” he added, referring to the Ethiopian-backed interim government in Somalia.

But ARS leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who was chairing the group’s meeting in Djibouti, dismissed the move.

”What they have said is null and void,” said his spokesperson Suleiman Olad Roble in Djibouti.

The ARS central committee, led by Ahmed, endorsed over the weekend in Djibouti a June 9 ceasefire agreement reached with the Somali government.

But Aweys rejected the truce, insisting the ARS was committed to driving out Ethiopian forces who entered Somalia in late 2006 and ousted an Islamist movement from the country’s south and central region.

The ARS was formed in September 2007 in Asmara and delegates chose Ahmed as its new leader.

The two fell out after Ahmed decided to participate in United Nations-sponsored peace talks in Djibouti to seek an end the Somali fighting that has raged since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

Numerous internationally backed peace-making initiatives have failed since the desert country plunged into lawlessness 17 years ago. — Sapa-AFP

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