President Of Somalia Announces Resignation

Somalia's president resigned Monday as the head of his country's U.N.-backed government after four years. The speaker of parliament will stand in as acting president until elections.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The president of Somalia has resigned. That move was expected. An Islamist insurgency has been bearing down on the transitional government that he headed. And the president was also distracted by a power struggle with his own prime minister. Now, Somalia's parliament must elect a new president, but few things follow the letter of the law in Somalia, as NPR's Gwen Thompkins reports.

GWEN THOMPKINS: After four years in office, Abdullahi Yusuf had overstayed his welcome. The transitional government he once led is that nation's 14th attempt at self-rule since the ouster of military dictator Siad Barre nearly a generation ago. And these days, things haven't been going so well. The government now controls only a sliver of Mogadishu and part of Baidoa, the seat of parliament. The rest of Somalia belongs to an Islamist insurgency that has been beating back government forces and Ethiopian soldiers stationed there to protect the government.

A humanitarian crisis, borne of the fighting, has ballooned to perhaps the worst in the world, but Yusuf dealt with none of these problems. Instead, he spent the past few weeks in a constitutional battle over whether he could fire his own prime minister. He lost. Regional leaders rallied behind the prime minister. They imposed sanctions on Yusuf. Ethiopia announced it was pulling out of Somalia. U.S. assistant secretary of state Jendayi Frazer met him only briefly last week, while changing planes in Nairobi's dimly lit international airport, not exactly an elegant audience with a head of state.

But withdrawing from power in a state of anarchy isn't easy. Yusuf has reportedly been working to get his militia out of Mogadishu and back to his northern base called Puntland, and it is not known whether Yusuf's clan will remain in government. Yusuf has often been accused of putting the needs of his clan ahead of the needs of all Somalis. But speaking to parliament, the aging former field commander briefly became the president the world had once wanted him to be. Yusuf told lawmakers, I need you to take care of the nation. Gwen Thompkins, NPR News, Nairobi.

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