December 25, 2008 in Nation/World

Somalia’s president planning to resign

Some say departure will aid peace effort
By Shashank Bengali McClatchy

A divisive figure

 Western diplomats and Somali opposition officials didn’t hide their relief at President Abdullahi Yusuf’s likely departure. A veteran politician, Yusuf long has been a divisive figure in Somalia. In a country where clan relationships are paramount, he refused to reach out to rival groups, instead concentrating power in a close-knit group of security officials that some observers began to label “Yusuf boys.”

 “There’s no negative” from Yusuf’s resignation, one diplomat said.

NAIROBI, Kenya – The embattled president of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf, is expected to resign after a bitter struggle for control of his country’s interim government, Western diplomats said Wednesday.

Yusuf’s departure, which could become official within days, would remove a major obstacle to a United Nations-backed peace process for Somalia, which has been floundering as Yusuf clashed with the prime minister and Islamist insurgents threatened to seize the capital, Mogadishu.

Yusuf’s spokesman, Hussein Mohamed Mahmoud, said the president would address lawmakers Saturday in the parliamentary seat of Baidoa. “The president hasn’t made any decision,” Mahmoud said, but several Western diplomats said that Yusuf’s resignation was imminent.

Yusuf, who’s in his 70s, has come under growing pressure from African and Western leaders for the failure of his interim government, in place for nearly five years, to bring stability to Somalia, which has been in the grip of a bloody, clan-based civil war for nearly two decades.

A powerful Islamist-led insurgency now controls almost all of southern Somalia.

Violence and a worsening drought have fueled a humanitarian crisis that relief agencies describe as the gravest in Africa, and the U.N. estimates that 3.2 million Somalis – half the country – need urgent help. Pirates off the northern Somali coast are taking advantage of the anarchy to terrorize the international shipping industry.

Amid all this, Yusuf last week tried to fire his archrival, Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, who has been pushing a peace deal to bring opposition groups into the government and dilute Yusuf’s power.

East African regional leaders threatened Yusuf with sanctions, and some Somali lawmakers started impeachment proceedings. Yusuf appointed another prime minister anyway, although no one outside Yusuf’s inner circle recognized him.

On Wednesday, the new prime minister resigned, saying he didn’t want to be an obstacle to peace. Western diplomats said that Yusuf realized he had run out of options.

“He’s been a spoiler for some time now,” said a U.S. official, who like others declined to be named because of diplomatic protocol. “It’s time for him to go. He understands that now.”

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