- African politics - Djibouti - Horn of Africa - Islamism - Somalia
REUTERS - Moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed won the Somali presidency on Saturday in a parliamentary vote in Djibouti under a U.N.-brokered plan to broker a unity government for the conflict-torn nation.
Applause broke out among legislators when Ahmed passed the majority of votes needed, 213, just before 4 a.m. local time (0100) during a run-off vote in an all-night parliament session.
The Islamist, who headed the sharia courts movement that ruled Mogadishu and most of south Somalia in 2006 before an Ethiopian military intervention, defeated Maslah Mohamed Siad, son of ex-dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, in the second round of voting.
Analysts say that Ahmed has the best chance of all the presidential candidates to unite Somalis, given his Islamist roots and acceptability to other sides. But reconciling Somalia's 10 million people and stopping 18 years of bloodshed in the Horn of Africa remain a daunting task even for him.
Parliament was meeting in neighbouring Djibouti due to instability in Somalia.
Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, who had been viewed as Ahmed's main rival for the presidency, pulled out of the race after scoring just 59 votes in the first round of the election.
New president Ahmed will now fly at the weekend to an African Union (AU) summit in Ethiopia before returning to Somalia to put together a unity government.
In the past two years, more than 16,000 civilians and an unknown number of combatants have died during an Islamist-led insurgency against the government and its Ethiopian military allies.
One million people have been driven from their homes, and a third of the population is reliant on food aid in what aid agencies call one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.
Somalia has had no real central government since warlords ousted Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
Despite the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops earlier this week, and the Djibouti peace process intended to reconcile the government and opposition, hardline insurgents led by the Al Shabaab insurgent group are still fighting for power.
Al Shabaab has denounced the Djibouti election as meaningless. It captured the seat of parliament in the central town of Baidoa this week, meaning the government only controls a few blocks of Mogadishu with the help of African Union peacekeepers.
Former President Abdullahi Yusuf, accused by the international community of being an obstacle to peace, quit as president last month after four years in power.
Parliamentary speaker Sheikh Aden Madobe has been the interim president.
Many Somalis were sceptical that the Djibouti process would bring peace at last, saying whoever was elected president would still face a major threat from hardliners, and that an election abroad would lack legitimacy.
"The international community is electing a Somali president of their choice ... just like (President) Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan," said Mogadishu mechanic Mohamed Abdulle, 35.