Somali president in Mogadishu for coalition talks

Sheikh Sharif to meet elders, politicians and Islamist groups


Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed arrived Saturday in Mogadishu--his first trip there since being elected last week--to hold talks aimed at forming a broad coalition government.

"My trip to Mogadishu is aimed at having consultations with elders, politicians and Islamic resistance groups," he told reporters upon arriving in the Somali capital.

The young cleric and former opposition leader was elected as Somali's new president on Jan. 31 by lawmakers gathered in Djibouti.

Sheikh Sharif had travelled to Addis Ababa this week to take part in the African Union summit and then returned to Djibouti.

The newly-elected leader had said he would form an inclusive government and extend a hand to armed groups still opposed to the U.N.-sponsored reconciliation effort which saw him leave his exile in Eritrea.

Hawiye clan

Several politicians are vying to succeed outgoing Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein.

According to Somalia's transitional charter, the president, the premier and the parliament speaker have to come from three different major clans.

Sheikh Sharif and Hussein are both from the Hawiye clan.

The new president, in his mid-forties, was one of the main targets when Ethiopian troops invaded in late 2006 to remove what they saw as an extremist Islamic movement on their doorstep.

But after two years of deadly guerrilla war, the Ethiopians have pulled out with little progress to speak of, more radical groups have blossomed and Sheikh Sharif is seen by many as occupying the political centre.

Somalia has had no effective central authority since the 1991 ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre touched off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.

Sheikh Sharif will face the daunting task of taming al-Shabaab fighters, who control several key towns, and overcoming clan divisions within his future administration.