Somali leader calls for united front against extremism

Somalia’s new president called for a united front against violent extremists and signalled his intent to try to bring together the country’s feuding Islamic factions, according to an interview published on Sunday.

Moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheik Ahmed was sworn in on Saturday and faces the daunting task of leading a Western-backed government that wields little control over a country that has suffered nearly 20 years of violence and anarchy.

”I say it is now high time to achieve national unity, forget our differences, unify our ranks and confront those who commit violence,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed was chairperson of the Islamic Courts Union that ran Mogadishu for six months in 2006 before Ethiopian soldiers drove them from power.

The group’s extremist breakaway militia, al-Shabab, has now taken much of the country, forcing lawmakers to meet outside of the country.

The US considers al-Shabab a terror organisation with links to al-Qaeda.

Al-Shabab did not recognise the last government and also disapproves of Ahmed, but his election raises hopes that he will bring many of Somalia’s Islamic factions into a more inclusive government.

The US government welcomed Ahmed as leader on Saturday and said that he had worked diligently on reconciliation efforts in Somalia.

Ahmed was attending the African Union summit in Addis Ababa on Sunday and holding a series of meetings with other African leaders. He did not speak to reporters.

Mohamed Jaama Ali, a minister in Ahmed’s government, said the administration would first try to appease the militia, but that if they refused to come around, they would go after them.

”We’ll try to negotiate with them,” he said. ”We’ll try to bring them on board. We’ll use the carrot and stick. We’ll try to influence them — or we’ll beat them.”

The last president resigned in December after failing to pacify the country during his four-year tenure.

The arid and impoverished Horn of Africa nation of some eight million people has not had a functioning government since clan-based militias overthrew a dictator in 1991, and then turned on each other.

Pirates prey on international shipping freely from Somalia’s lawless shores, and analysts fear an extremist Islamic administration could become a haven for international terrorists.

There have been more than a dozen previous peace efforts and three previous governments were formed, but they never managed to take effective control over most of the country.

Pirates seek $6-million for German ship
Meanwhile on Monday it was reported that pirates who seized a German fuel tanker in the Gulf of Aden are demanding $6-million for the vessel’s release.

A spokesperson for the German operators of the MV Longchamp declined to confirm the demand.

The captain of the 3 500-ton ship had reportedly expressed fears for the safety of the 13-member crew — 12 Filipinos and one Indonesian — if the hijacking is not resolved peacefully.

The pirates on board the tanker contacted the Hamburg-based Bernhard Schulte ship management company on Saturday, two days after seizing the vessel.

The tanker, transporting liquefied petroleum gas, was seized on Thursday morning, en route from Europe to the Far East.

The 100m-long vessel belongs to MPC Steamship, a branch of a German investment group, a spokesperson for the company in Hamburg said.

The MPC spokesperson said the ship had passed through the Suez Canal and waited for a day to join a convoy under Indian naval protection as it passed through pirate-infested waters.

However, the Indians could not prevent pirates from seizing the vessel, despite engaging the attackers in gunfire which left two pirates and one crew member injured.

The vessel was then steered away to the Somali coast. — Sapa-AP, Sapa-dpa

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