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Somali parliament gathers to elect powerful speaker

Somalia's new parliament meets to vote for position of speaker, key in setting up new government in country; UN-backed process as latest bid to end instability

AFP , Tuesday 28 Aug 2012
Mohamed Siad Barre
File photo: Former Somali parliament Mohamed Siad Barre (Photo: Reuters)
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Somalia's new parliament met Tuesday to vote for the powerful position of speaker, a key step in setting up a fresh government for the war-torn country.

The United Nations-backed process, which will culminate in lawmakers choosing the country's new president, is the latest bid to end two decades of instability in the Horn of Africa nation.

"We are gathered here to appoint a new speaker of parliament," lawmaker Mustaf Dhuhulow told AFP. "Everything is ready for the process."

Secret ballots in parliament for the posts of speaker and two deputy speakers have been delayed several times, but the vote is expected to begin Tuesday.

"We are very much happy that the stage is ready for the election," said Omar Alinur Omar, another lawmaker. "I hope everything will be transparent and the election rules will be respected by all of us."

Somalia has not had a stable central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, which sparked rounds of bloody civil war.

Under the UN-backed process, a group of traditional elders is selecting the members of the new parliament.

Around 260 of the legislature's 275 members have been chosen so far, the majority sworn into office last week on the tarmac of the capital's airport, protected by African Union troops.

The nearly 17,000-strong AU force has propped up Somalia's Western-backed leadership against attacks by the country's Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents.

Bitter arguments have begun between challengers for the parliament's top jobs, divided along Somalia's notoriously fractious clan lines.

Five candidates were in the running Tuesday for the post of speaker, including two former prime ministers, Hassan Abshir Farah and Ali Khalif Galayr, both from the Darod clan and the northern semi-autonomous Puntland region.

Mohamed Osman Jawari, a former minister under the regime of Siad Barre, from the Rahanweyn clan from the southern Baidoa region, is also running for the post.

The selection of speaker will impact the subsequent parliamentary vote for president, as Somali politicians have traditionally tried to share out the seats between rival clans.

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