Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Somali Islamists tell president to step down

MOGADISHU, Sept 1 (Reuters) - A Somali rebel group has told the Horn of Africa nation's embattled president to resign and said hardline Islamists had succeeded where the government had failed, in establishing order in areas they controlled.
Hizbul Islam, which has waged a three-year insurgency against the fragile interim government alongside the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group, urged Somalia's Muslims to unite and join the Islamists' struggle."President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed ought to quit. He has nothing for the people except a call for more foreign troops that massacre Somalis," Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, leader of Hizbul Islam, told reporters on Tuesday evening.Hardline Islamists control vast tracts of south and central Somalia and much of the capital Mogadishu, hemming the government into just a few blocks manned by African Union (AU) peacekeepers.
In recent days, the militants have intensified their offensive on government targets and killed four Ugandan peacekeepers deployed near the presidential palace.Bent on imposing a strict version of sharia, Islamic law, on the nation, the militants routinely carry out stonings and amputations and have banned football, music and school bells in areas they control. They claim to have restored law and order.

"I urge Islamists to unite. Areas under the control of Islamists are peaceful. They are the good Muslims who can rule the country," Aweys said.Political analysts are at odds over the best way to tackle the insurgency.
A U.S. military official said on Wednesday that foreign militants were not universally accepted by al Shabaab, but that outside powers would find it hard to use their presence to divide and weaken the insurgency.
More than 150 people have died over the last 10 days during the latest escalation of violence in Mogadishu, medics said. On Tuesday, a roadside blast and heavy artillery fire between insurgents and AU-backed government troops killed at least 18 people.The African Union on Wednesday condemned an attack on Monday in which four Ugandan peacekeepers were killed when insurgents fired mortars at the presidential palace."The Chairperson of the (AU) Commission ... reiterates the commitment and determination of the AU to stand by and support the people of Somalia in confronting and defeating these anti-peace elements," the AU said in a statement.Ali Muse, coordinator of the ambulance service, said many of Tuesday's casualties were civilians hit by shells landing in and around the Bakara market, Mogadishu's largest bazaar and a known rebel stronghold.Nine people were killed when a roadside bomb hit two minibuses, doctors at the Medina Hospital said."The bomb exploded on the buses ahead of the one I was on. Blood and pieces of human flesh littered the road," witness Ismail Musamil told Reuters. (Additional reporting by Abdi Guled; Editing by Richard Lough and Tim Pearce)