MOGADISHU, Somalia — Ali Mahdi Mohamed, a 52-year-old hotel owner, was sworn in today as interim president of Somalia, assuming office amid the sound of gunfire in a capital shattered by a monthlong rebel offensive.
Mahdi, who was instrumental in organizing opposition to ousted President Mohamed Siad Barre, said his first task would be to select a prime minister who would form an interim government from all the opposition groups, armed and unarmed, that fought to depose Siad Barre after 21 years of despotic rule.
Mahdi took office in the bare waiting room of local police headquarters, and promised fair, democratic elections "as soon as possible." He declined, however, to establish a timetable for voting in this Horn of Africa nation.
Mahdi's swearing-in came three days after Siad Barre fled the capital in a convoy of military vehicles. Reports variously have placed Siad Barre, believed to be 80, either in a southern port city or in Kenya.