Somali president names new premier after winning power struggle; refugees flee capital
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Somalia's president named a caretaker prime minister on Tuesday, a day after the outgoing premier lost a power struggle in the government and resigned.
The U.N. refugee agency said fighting in Mogadishu over the weekend between remnants of an Islamic militia and government forces backed by Ethiopian troops has driven around 36,000 people from their homes, adding to the tens of thousands who fled the capital earlier this year.
Hospital officials and residents said the latest fighting was the worst in months in the Horn of Africa nation.
Mogadishu has been plagued by violence since government troops and their Ethiopian allies drove out the Council of Islamic Courts in December. For six months, the Islamic group had controlled much of southern Somalia, and remnants have vowed to fight on. Thousands of civilians have been killed in fighting this year.
Officials said Salim Aliyow Ibrow, a former deputy prime minister, will temporarily replace Ali Mohamed Gedi who gave up his post Monday after months of wrangling with Yusuf over division of executive branch powers.
Ibrow's appointment was effective immediately and officials said he would focus on security issues.
Ibrow is a former professor from one of Somalia's main universities. He hails from one of the country's four main clans -- but not the same clan as Gedi. He has studied in Italy and Australia.
By law, President Abdullahi Yusuf must name a permanent prime minister within 30 days of Gedi's resignation.
The new prime minister struck a conciliatory tone Tuesday, calling for an end to the country's crisis
"The time of fighting has ended, and we are in the season of reconciliation," he told The Associated Press.
But hundreds more families around the city's main market were preparing to flee the capital on Tuesday, loading trucks, buses and donkey carts with their belongings, said Jennifer Pagonis, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
"They're really rather confused about where to go: whether to stay, whether to leave the city entirely or whether to relocate to another part of the city," she told reporters in Geneva, Switzerland.
"According to some accounts, residents had been told by city officials to vacate the four districts close to the market, as security operations were going to take place," Pagonis added.
Many of the people said they feared that the latest fighting could grow into major battles in the capital, she said.
Residents also lost their source of income when the Bakara market, the city's main trading point, was closed over the weekend, Pagonis said. A bomb at the market killed at least five Somalis on Oct. 5.
The refugee agency UNHCR said most of the Somalis leaving the capital are heading to the town of Afgoye, about 20 miles west of Mogadishu, where about 100,000 people driven from their homes earlier this year already live.
According to the U.N., some 1.5 million Somalis are now in need of food aid and protection -- 50 percent more that at the start of the year -- because of inadequate rains, continuing internal displacement and a potential cholera epidemic.
Somalia has not had a functioning government since 1991, when rival warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)