February 13, 2009 / 6:06 AM / 10 years ago

Slain Somali president's son named PM

(Adds president, prime minister quotes)

By Abdiaziz Hassan

DJIBOUTI, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Somalia’s new president chose Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, the Western-educated son of a murdered former leader, to be prime minister on Friday in a power-sharing government intended to end civil conflict.

"I hope the Prime Minister designate will do his duties in a very honest and transparent manner by completing the peace process and forming an inclusive national unity government," President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said at the nomination ceremony.

Sharmarke’s appointment — designed to shore up both diaspora and national support for the 15th attempt to set up government in Somalia since 1991 — drew wide approval among many Somalis but condemnation by local rebels.

"We welcome him," said Sheikh Abdiqadir Ali, a clan elder in in Puntland region where Sharmarke is from. "He was not involved in Somali politics and we are sure he will bring peace."

But Sheikh Hassan Yucqub, a spokesman for the al Shabaab group which is fighting Ahmed’s government, mocked the naming: "An unlawful camel never gives birth to lawful ones."

Underlining the challenge awaiting Sharmarke and newly-elected president Ahmed, an al Qaeda leader urged jihad against the Western-backed, moderate Islamic government.

"Aim your arrows towards them ... direct your battles against them and intensify your campaign," Abu Yahya al-Libi said in a video released on Islamist web sites on Friday.

Washington says al Shabaab is al Qaeda’s proxy in Somalia, and the group is known to have foreign fighters in its ranks.

After his nomination at a ceremony in Djibouti, Sharmarke vowed attention to Somalia’s one million internal refugees and urged foes to join him.

"My main priority is resettling the internally displaced people back to their homes, and facilitating international humanitarian aid ... It is another big priority for us to work on reconciliation and extending a hand to the opposition."

Parliament is expected to ratify Sharmarke on Saturday.

Sharmarke has held various U.N. posts including as a political adviser on the Darfur conflict.

He is the son of Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke, an elected president shot dead in 1969 before a military coup.

Though his family base is Virginia in the United States, he has both Canadian and Somali citizenship, his aides said.

By choosing a diaspora figure, Ahmed will hope to win backing and involvement in his government from the several million Somalis abroad, many in Europe and the United States.

"More than the diaspora aspect though, Sharmarke is a figurehead who can bridge the gap between the Islamists in government and the international community, given his ties to the U.N. and profile abroad," one Somali analyst said.


Sharmarke is a member of Somalia’s Darod ethnic group, whereas Ahmed, a former geography teacher and moderate Islamist who led a sharia courts movement in 2006, is Hawiye.

"Sharif is playing another Machiavellian card by keeping his friends close but his enemies closer, as a withdrawn Darod clan could use that space and time to mobilise to threaten the new government," said Mark Schroeder, Africa analyst at global intelligence company Stratfor.

"It also provides Western interests — particularly the U.S. — a point of access into the new government."

The major challenge for both president and prime minister will be to face the threat of armed Islamist insurgents.

Al Shabaab says Ahmed’s government is an illegitimate "puppet" administration put together by foreign powers.

Around Somalia, much reaction was cautiously positive.

Sheikh Abdirahim Isse Adow, spokesman for the moderate Islamic Courts movement, said the new prime minister was an "honest" man who should bring "positive changes."

Some Somalis remembered Sharmarke’s father with affection.

"We hope the new prime minister will be patriotic and will make Somalia peaceful. He is the son of our beloved late President Sharmarke who was just killed because of being honest," said Botan Hashi, a clan elder in Gurael town.

"Welcome - like father, like son." (Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne in Nairobi; Abdi Guled, Sahra Abdi, Abdi Shekih and Abdiqani Hassan in Somalia; Firouz Sedarat in Dubai)~

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