Page last updated at 18:33 GMT, Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Somali cabinet backs Sharia plan

Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed
Moderate Islamist Sheikh Sharif Ahmed proposed Sharia law

The cabinet in Somalia has endorsed a proposal by President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to implement Islamic law in the country.

Experts say the move aims to drain support for radical Islamist guerrillas who now control much of southern and central Somalia.

The bill is expected to go before parliament in the next few days.

The move came as the Somali president began a three-day visit to Burundi, which has peacekeepers in Somalia.

'Only option'

"The cabinet members discussed deeply on the issue regarding the Islamic Sharia law and the members unanimously approved full implementation," said Somali Information Minister Farhan Ali Mohamoud, according to AFP news agency.

A Somali Islamist fighter stands guard over a crowd that gathered to watch the public flogging of teenage boys convicted of raping a minor in Mogadishu, Somalia, on 9 March 2009
Hardline Islamists have continued to fight the government

"Islamic Sharia is the only option to get solutions for the problems in this country."

Last month, the president agreed to proposals by local and foreign religious leaders for a truce with hardline Islamists and the implementation of Sharia law.

Sheikh Sharif, a former moderate rebel leader, was elected in January following a UN-brokered peace process.

But hardline Islamist insurgent groups like al-Shabab have continued to battle the government and its allies.

In Burundi's capital Bujumbura on Tuesday, Sheikh Sharif extended his sympathies to the Burundian people on the deaths of 11 of their soldiers in a Mogadishu suicide attack two weeks ago.

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza re-iterated his government's determination to maintain Burundi's deployment.

He said sending more troops was under discussion with the Somali authorities and the African Union.

The Horn of Africa country has not had an effective central government since 1991.

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