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MOGADISHU, May 1 — Somalia’s lower house of parliament voted unanimously today to cancel a divisive two-year presidential term extension it approved last month, a move that might help end an armed stand-off in the capital Mogadishu.
The crisis over the term extension has raised fears that al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgents could exploit the situation. Militants from al Shabaab took over at least one Somali town in the past week, as heavily armed fighters moved from the countryside into the capital city.
The lower house vote was broadcast on Somali television and came shortly after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed addressed parliament and said he was directing his prime minister to spearhead preparations for the election.
Mohamed’s term expired in February, but wrangling over elections meant a new crop of legislators was not selected to choose a new president.
The term extension was approved by lower house lawmakers last month but rejected by the Senate, provoking a political crisis that intensified in the past week.
The proposal split some security forces along clan lines. Between 60,000 and 100,000 people were forced to flee their homes following clashes on Sunday that stirred fears of all-out war between heavily armed factions for and against the president.
Rashid Abdi, a Nairobi-based independent analyst, said that the parliament’s vote and the president’s delegation of election preparations to the prime minister appeared to be a good compromise.
“The problem is there is so little trust between the parties and as long as Farmaajo holds the levers of the military and security services, it looks difficult to build confidence in that process,” he said, using a popular nickname for the president.
Battle lines drawn
An opposition lawmaker said he was waiting for further reassurances.
“Much remains to be done,” MP Abdirahman Odowaa told Reuters. “The handing over of security and election process to the prime minister should be documented and signed by (the president). (He) has to go to the conference tent and sign all this and many other conditions before all.”
In the capital, shopkeeper Duale Hussein said he feared the opposition had been duped.
“He cleverly did a somersault,” Hussein said of the president. “Farmaajo still rules everything. Prime Minister (Mohamed Hussein) Roble is just his remote control.”
Earlier in the week, as tensions rose in the capital with rival factions of the security forces drawing battle lines, the president promised the nation he would appear before parliament.
Analysts had suggested the announcement was intended to signal he was placing the question of his proposed term extension in parliament’s hands.
Opposition leaders had accused the president of stalling, and security forces loyal to the opposition refused to withdraw from fortified positions in the capital.
It was not immediately clear what those forces would do following Saturday’s news from parliament.
Somalia’s armed forces include members of clan militias who have often battled each other for power and resources.
Mohamed is Darod, one of Somalia’s major clans. Most of the opposition leaders and Somali military in the capital are Hawiye, another large clan. — Reuters
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