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Page last updated at 14:37 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Somalia may delay president vote

 Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein iin Djibouti on Sunday 25 January 2009
Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein is a one of the presidential candidates

Somali lawmakers have voted to expand parliament and are to decide whether to delay electing a new president.

Some 200 members of the moderate Islamist Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia are to join parliament, along with 75 from civil society groups

ARS leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed announced on Sunday he would contest the presidential election.

Mr Sharif and Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein are seen as the two main presidential contenders.

More than a dozen candidates are expected to vie to succeed President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.

He stood down last month after falling out with the prime minister over a UN-backed peace deal.

Looting

The MPs met in neighbouring Djibouti due to insecurity at home - in their absence on Monday, the parliament in the city of Baidoa was ransacked by looters.

SOMALIA'S WOES
Armed al-Shabab insurgents in Mogadishu
3m need food aid - a third of the population
1m displaced
Government only controls Baidoa
Islamist groups control much of southern Somalia
No effective government since 1991
Piracy on the rise

Reports say the chamber building and presidential palace had been stripped, with even the doors and windows carried off.

The atmosphere in Baidoa - one of the few strongholds of Somalia's fragile transitional government - is reported to be tense, with different militia groups patrolling the streets.

It follows the weekend's withdrawal of Ethiopian troops, who had entered Somalia in 2006 in an effort to oust Islamist groups.

While their parliament was being ransacked, MPs voted overwhelmingly in Djibouti to double the number of parliamentary seats from 275. Of the 220 MPs present, 211 voted in favour.

Following UN-backed peace talks in Djibouti, members of the transitional government agreed to include 200 new lawmakers from the ARS. They are expected to be sworn in this week.

Another 75 new lawmakers from civil society groups are scheduled to join parliament at a later date.

MPs are also mulling whether to extend by some 10 days Wednesday's deadline for choosing a new president, to allow contenders time to campaign.

The UN special representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, earlier urged the parliament to respect its 28 January deadline for selecting Mr Yusuf's successor.

Under the constitutional charter, a new Somali president - who in turn will appoint a new prime minister - should be chosen by parliament within 30 days of the resignation of the last one.

But the BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu says the chamber is unlikely to decide who should be the new president by then.

Our correspondent says the prime minister and ARS leader are the two leading candidates for the post in terms of popularity.

Suicide attacks warning

He adds that if Mr Sharif wins the presidency, then Mr Hussein would not be able to remain as prime minister because they are both from the Hawiye clan and therefore cannot hold the top two government posts under Somali power-sharing rules.

Wreckage of a suicide bomb vehicle in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Saturday 24 January 2009
The violence continued over the weekend with a suicide car bomb
The more hardline Islamist wing of the ARS, based in Eritrea, and the radical al-Shabab fighters inside Somalia, have both refused to take part in Somalia's peace talks.

African Union (AU) peacekeepers, Somali government forces and some ARS fighters are taking up the positions vacated by the Ethiopians.

Addis Ababa sent in the troops in 2006 but the intervention proved widely unpopular with Somalis and galvanised the insurgency, analysts say.

On Saturday a suicide car bomber targeting AU peacekeepers killed at least 17 people, mainly civilians, in the capital Mogadishu.

AU spokesman Maj Bahuko Baridgye told AFP on Monday that Islamist extremists were to blame.

He said the militants were plotting more suicide attacks and warned civilians to be cautious.

Some 16,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict between Somalia's transitional government and the Islamists, and a million more have been forced from their homes.

Some three million people need food aid - a third of the population.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, since when various militias have been battling for control.

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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
AllAfrica.com 'Ethiopia Has Left, Stop the War,' Pleads Islamist Chief - 4 hrs ago
Times DailyIslamists Overrun Somalia City as Ethiopians Leave - 14 hrs ago
Xinhua News Agency Somali lawmakers approve five-day extension of presidential vote deadline - 14 hrs ago
Guardian Unlimited Somalia - 14 hrs ago
Reuters Somali Islamists to rule by sharia law in Baidoa - 24 hrs ago
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