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President bows to rebels' demand for Sharia law

Latest update : 2009-03-03

New Somali president Sheikh Sharif Ahmed bowed to Islamist insurgents' demand to introduce Sharia law to the country on Saturday in exchange for a truce deal, after some of the bloodiest clashes in Mogadishu since the moderate Islamist was elected.

AFP -  New Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed bowed Saturday to demands from Islamist insurgents after the fiercest clashes since he took office, agreeing to a truce and the introduction of sharia law.

Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel leader who was elected president on January 31, said he had accepted proposals by local and religious leaders mediating between his government and the hardliners.

"I met with religious leaders and elders and accepted their demand for ceasefire and reconciliation with the opposition members and I call on all opposition parties to halt the unnecessary violence," Ahmed told reporters.  

"The mediators asked me to introduce Islamic sharia in the country and I agreed."

Hardline Shebab militia and other Islamist fighters have waged battles against the government and its allies since and before Ahmed came to power, vowing to fight until all foreign forces withdraw and sharia law is imposed.

At least 30 people were killed this week in the bloodiest clashes since the president, a moderate Islamist, was elected.

African Union peacekeepers, who are constantly under attack from Islamist insurgents, are the only foreign troops left in the country after Ethiopian soldiers pulled out last month.

"We asked the president to implement Islamic sharia in the country and accept mediation," said Sheikh Bashir Ahmed, chairman of Somalia's Union of Islamic Scholars and one of the mediators.

"He agreed and we hope this will end the violence in the country."

The proposal to introduce sharia law must still be ratified by Somalia's parliament.

Ahmed became president following a United Nations-brokered reconciliation in Djibouti that aimed to try and bring some kind of stability to the Horn of Africa state after years of unrest.

After his Islamist movement was ousted in early 2007 by Ethiopia-backed Somali forces, Ahmed formed an opposition umbrella that later entered into peace talks with the Somali transitional government.

The Islamist forces opposed to the UN-sponsored reconciliation bids have launched several deadly attacks against the government and African Union forces in recent days.

The attacks were seen as a warning to Ahmed, who has vowed to stabilise Somalia.

The Shebab also claimed responsibility for a suspected suicide attack against African Union troops in Mogadishu that killed 11 Burundian peacekeepers on Sunday.

Last month, they took control of the south-central Baidoa town which hosted the transitional federal parliament after Ethiopian troops withdrew.

When in power in 2006, the Islamists introduced a strict form of sharia and  carried out executions, shut cinemas and photo shops, banned live music, flogged drug offenders and harassed civilians, mainly women, for failing to wear appropriate dress in public.

They also banned foreign music, romances between unmarried teens, all commerce and public transport during prayer times and decreed that Muslims who do not pray daily can be punished by death.

Upon his election, Ahmed vowed to build an inclusive government, reach out to hardline groups and bring Somalia back into the regional fold.

On Saturday, he said the new government of 36 ministers had moved back home to Mogadishu after beginning its work in exile in Djibouti.



Date created : 2009-02-28