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Somali Mps Look To Legislate, A Year After Brawling
The parliament will meet in the city of Baidoa, seen as a neutral venue away from the capital Mogadishu, seat of powerful warlords, and Jowhar, temporary home of the interim government.
President Abdillahi Yusuf and Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan on Jan. 5 agreed to hold a parliament meeting inside Somalia within 30 days in a bid to reactivate their faltering government after more than a year of paralysis.
At the previous session last March deputies threw chairs and punched one another at a posh hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, where the government was set up in 2004 in the 14th attempt to restore central authority to a country whose last national president was ousted in 1991.
"People really need a government. We hope this time parliament will meet and work peacefully to end the anarchy in our country," speaker Hassan told Reuters.
Hassan said the MPs plan to choose committees, decide on how long they will meet and revisit the debate over allowing in foreign peacekeepers.
LAST BEST HOPE
In what many call the last best hope for this administration more than 100 MPs have come to the city.
They arrive outside the town in motorcades escorted by pickup trucks known as "technicals," carrying heavy machine guns and militiamen chewing the amphetamine-like qat leaf.
"No guns or technicals will be allowed in the town, only 400 uniformed policemen will be patrolling the city," local elder Mahamud Haji Mohamed told Reuters.
More than 1,000 gunmen have camped outside Baidoa, a city of 800,000 around 240 km (150 miles) northwest of Mogadishu, he said.
Foreign diplomats, President Yusuf and Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi, who some MPs have said they want to remove, should arrive on Saturday.
"We have not met since March 17 when we fought in Nairobi's Grand Regency hotel. Now we are friends," Mogadishu MP Abdirashad Aden Abdullhi told his former foe, Jowhar-based MP Hassan Isak Yaqub, as the two hugged.
The two MPs symbolize one of the main rifts in the government, namely where it should make its initial home.
The government is based in Jowhar, 90 km (56 miles) north of the capital and Yusuf and his allies say Mogadishu cannot be the government's base until it is freed from the control of warlords.
Mogadishu warlords in the cabinet, speaker Hassan and almost half of the 275-member parliament say the capital must be the seat of government as the interim constitution demands.
Since parliament last met the two sides have boosted their weapons stocks in defiance of a U.N. weapons embargo.
A number of hotels and restaurants have sprung up or been spruced up for the meeting in Baidoa, dubbed the "City of Death" during a 1992 famine that killed hundreds of thousands.
Drought threatens the country with famine again this year, according to the United Nations.
Dozens of shoeshine boys have set up shop on the pot-holed streets, looking for work to relieve their crushing poverty.
"I think it will be good if we have a government because then I can get a better job than shining shoes," one of the boys, Kamal Mohamed, said.
By Guled Mohamed
Source: Reuters, Feb. 24, 2006