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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Somali opposition picks senior Islamist as new alliance leader

Written by Administrator
Friday, 14 September 2007
ImageASMARA, Eritrea (AFP) — A congress of top Somali opposition figures wrapped up Friday in Eritrea after choosing senior Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed as the chairman of a newly formed anti-Ethiopian alliance. The announcement was made at the close of a congress of some 350 Somali opposition figures who have been gathered in Asmara since September 6 to work out how to unite against Ethiopian troops in Somalia.

"The conference is over with great results but now the struggle for liberation starts," conference spokesman Zakariya Mahamud Abdi told reporters.

"The chairman of the alliance, elected by the 191 members of the central committee, is Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed. He is chair of the alliance and of the executive committee," he said.

Sheikh Sharif's closest rival in the opposition's consultations to choose a leadership was appointed head of the central committee, which will function like a parliament.

"Sherif Hassan Sheikh Adan, who was the speaker of the now deceased transitional federal parliament, is now chairman of the central committee," Abdi said.

The identities of the 10-man executive committee's other members have not yet been revealed.

"Our work will be concentrated in Mogadishu and surrounding areas to drive out the Ethiopian forces. Everyone must take part, this is not to do with clan lines or religion, but a national liberation struggle," he added.

Sheikh Sharif was the number two of the Islamic Courts Union, which briefly controlled large parts of Somalia before being ousted by Ethiopian troops earlier this year.

The opposition figures gathered in Eritrea -- Ethiopia's arch-foe -- boycotted a clan reconciliation conference held by the transitional government and backed by the international community.

This long process in Somalia's violence-wracked capital Mogadishu, where insurgents clash frequently with the Ethiopian-backed security forces and civilians often get hurt, wrapped up two weeks ago with no major breakthrough.

Somalia's top hardline Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who is wanted by Washington over suspected links to Al-Qaeda, said he would participate in the push against Ethiopia.

"I am no different from any other Somali, so I'll play any role I can but I don't have any position," added Aweys, who was not named in the alliance leadership role.

Sheikh Hassan said: "The Somali people have no choice but exercise its right of legitimate self-defence as well as protect the integrity and independence of its country."

"We have no connections with any dubious external forces and we urge the international community not to succumb to the propaganda of the occupation forces," he said in the closing speech.

His central committee is dominated by Islamists, who account for roughly 45 percent of its members, with 25 percent of lawmakers, 16 percent of diaspora representatives, as well as civil society members and religious leaders.

The final statement read at the closing of the opposition conference called on Uganda to pull out the troops it dispatched to Somalia as Africa Union peacekeepers earlier this year.

The congress also reiterated its call for Washington to reverse its policies in Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa.

The opposition alliance "will not enter into any talks with the so-called transitional federal government before a complete withdrawal of Ethiopian occupation army from Somalia," the statement also said.

Since the ouster of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has had no central authority and defied several initiatives aimed at ending bloody tribal feuds and restoring stability.

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