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Sanctions imposed on Somalia head

Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed (file)
President Abdullahi said the government had failed to bring peace

The East African regional grouping Igad has decided to impose sanctions on Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and his associates.

In a communique after a meeting of foreign ministers in Ethiopia it backed Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein, whom the president tried to dismiss.

The grouping also discussed ways to replace Ethiopian troops when they pull out of Somalia in the next few weeks.

African Union commission head Jean Ping said Nigeria was ready to send troops.

Torn by internal conflict, Somalia has been without an effective central government for more than 15 years.

Infighting

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says there was no doubt whose side this meeting of the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (Igad) was on.

In a place of honour on the platform was Ahmed Mohammed Goala, the Somali prime minister's newly appointed foreign minister, not his predecessor, who had been associated with President Abdullahi, our correspondent says.

SOMALIA'S WOES
3m need food aid - a third of the population
1m displaced
Government only controls Baidoa
Islamist groups control much of the country
No effective government since 1991
Piracy on the rise

At the end of the meeting, the foreign ministers of the six member states expressed their support for Mr Nur and his newly appointed cabinet, and said they regretted the attempt by the president to replace him last Sunday.

Mr Abdullahi said the government had been "paralysed by corruption, inefficiency and treason" and failed to bring peace.

However, Somalia's parliament declared the sacking illegal and passed a vote of confidence in Mr Nur by a huge majority on Monday.

In the communique issued at the end of the meeting, Igad gave its strong backing to Mr Nur and his government.

"[Igad] regrets the attempts by President Abdullahi Yusuf to unconstitutionally appoint a new prime minister that Igad does not recognise, and decides to impose sanctions on him and his associates immediately," it said.

It also called on other countries to take similar measures.

Our correspondent says that in addition to the infighting in the Somali government, the imminent departure of Ethiopian troops from the country overshadowed the meeting.

Ethiopian troops in Somalia (June 2008)
Some analysts fear a power vacuum after the Ethiopians leave

Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin said his country's decision to pull out over the coming weeks was "irrevocable".

Igad formally thanked the Ethiopians for the sacrifices they had made to advance the cause of peace in Somalia, but made no appeal to them to change their mind and stay.

The issue of peacekeeping will be considered further at a meeting of the African Union's Peace and Security Council on Monday.

Ministers now have the task of trying to beef up the AU's mission in Somalia, which will no longer have the comfort of knowing it can call for Ethiopian back-up when needed, our correspondent adds.

At the Igad meeting, the president of the African Union Commission said Nigeria had promised to send a battalion of about 850 soldiers to Somalia next month, and that Burundi and Uganda would each send an additional battalion.

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