DJIBOUTI // The moderate leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed won the presidency of Somalia today and vowed to end conflict in the Horn of Africa nation, make peace with neighbours and rule with honesty and justice. Legislators applauded, and the former geography teacher smiled and raised his arms aloft, after winning the election around 4am local time in a runoff vote during an all-night session of the Somali parliament in Djibouti.
Analysts say Mr Ahmed has a real chance of reuniting Somalis, given his roots, backing of parliament and acceptability to the West. But reconciling the country's 10 million people and stopping 18 years of bloodshed remain a daunting task even for him. Mr Ahmed headed the Shariah courts movement that brought some stability to Mogadishu and most of south Somalia in 2006, before Ethiopian troops invaded and ousted them from power.
"The conflict in Somalia will be resolved. We are urging our brothers in armed conflict to join us in peace-building," he told parliament. "We will govern the Somali people with honesty and justice, and give them back their rights." After being sworn in at a hotel in Djibouti on Saturday morning, he will fly to the very country that chased him from Somalia to attend an African leaders summit. He then returns to Somalia to try and put together a unity government ? the 15th such attempt since Somalia descended into anarchy with the ouster of a dictator in 1991.
Legislators elected him in Djibouti due to the instability at home. But they hope they have elected a man able to isolate or even possibly bring on board hardline insurgents, even if there is a risk the violence spikes in the short term. Despite the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops earlier this week, and the UN-brokered Djibouti peace process intended to reconcile the government and opposition, hardline insurgents led by al Shabaab have vowed to fight on.
Al Shabaab, which is on Washington's list of foreign terrorist groups, said just before the vote that it would start a new campaign of hit-and-run attacks on the government whoever came to power. *Reuters