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Somali leader tries to fire premier

President Yusuf, who opposes a pending peace accord between the prime minister and Islamists, accuses his rival of incompetence.

December 15, 2008|Edmund Sanders | Sanders is a Times staff writer.

NAIROBI, KENYA — A power struggle inside Somalia's transitional government grew worse Sunday as the president moved to fire the prime minister, who was pushing a peace deal that would weaken the president's power.

President Abdullahi Yusuf said he had "fired" Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein for failing to restore security and form a functioning Cabinet. Yusuf said he would name a replacement in three days.

"The government has been paralyzed by incompetence, embezzlement and corruption," Yusuf told reporters in the city of Baidoa, where the nation's parliament is based. "I am obliged to rescue the country."

But Hussein, who has clashed with Yusuf in recent months over Cabinet appointments and a pending peace deal with opposition groups, said the president lacked the authority to remove him.

"The president is searching for any way to destroy my government," said Hussein, who has called for Yusuf to resign. "My government will continue to operate as authorized by the parliament and transitional federal charter."

The dispute raises the specter that the U.N.-recognized transitional government will fracture into two rival camps, as it did in 2006, with each side claiming legitimacy.

The timing of the clash appears related to an impending vote on the reconciliation agreement between the prime minister and a faction of moderate Islamists. Under the terms of the so-called Djibouti agreement, the opposition group would receive half the seats in an expanded parliament in return for ending its insurgency. Lawmakers were expected to vote on the deal this week.

Yusuf, whose power base would be diluted under parliament's expansion, has opposed the deal. Hussein has said it would help reduce violence by bringing opposition groups into government.

"Yusuf appears to be trying to disrupt the Djibouti process because he realizes his position is at risk," said one Western diplomat who was not authorized to speak about the situation. "He's pretty isolated."

Experts and Western diplomats said Hussein could be removed only by a no-confidence vote in parliament. They questioned whether Yusuf had the needed votes.

Last week, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, who is leading the moderate Islamist faction, returned to Mogadishu, the capital, for the first time since 2006. Ahmed was chairman of the Islamic Courts Union, a religious alliance that briefly controlled southern Somalia in 2006 before being defeated by Ethiopian troops.

But like the government, Somalia's Islamists are also divided. Many of Ahmed's more fundamentalist Islamic Courts allies have rejected the Djibouti accord and promised to continue fighting a guerrilla war against the government.

Ethiopia, which has been supporting and protecting the transitional government with thousands of its soldiers since 2006, said this month that it would withdraw its forces in the coming weeks.

Experts worry that Somalia's government, which controls only parts of Mogadishu and Baidoa, will collapse in the subsequent security vacuum.

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edmund.sanders@latimes.com

Special correspondent Lutfi Sheriff Mohammed in Mogadishu contributed to this report.

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