New president takes oath of office

Somalia's newly elected President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed took his oath of office on Thursday at a ceremony in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, attended by several African heads of state, diplomats and representatives from international organisations.

Yusuf, a career soldier and politician took the oath of office in the Somali language. He was sworn-in by the speaker of the transitional federal parliament, Shariff Hassan Sheikh Adan, amid cheering by thousands of Somalis who turned up for the ceremony held in the auditorium of a sports stadium.

The Kenya Army band played the Somali national anthem and the Somali flag was unfurled in the hall as a 21-gun salute boomed outside the auditorium.

Yusuf won Sunday's presidential election and vowed to re-establish stability in the Horn of Africa country, ravaged by factional warfare since 1991. Declared winner in the run-off round of the poll, has served as president of the northeastern self-declared autonomous region of Puntland since 1998.

He beat his rival, former cabinet minister and diplomat Abdullahi Ahmed Addow, by 189 to 79 votes cast by members of the transitional-federal parliament, which was constituted in August. Twenty-four candidates were either eliminated in the first round or withdrew from the race.

"What we are witnessing today is the victory of all Somali people," said Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki after Yusuf was sworn-in. "We are delighted that the people of Somalia have chosen the path of peace."

Kibaki urged the international community to help the people of Somalia in their efforts to rebuild their country.

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni, who is the current chairman of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the regional body that sponsored the peace process that culminated in the election of the president, said the organisation would ensure that the peace process succeeded.

"IGAD will not allow anyone to come in and mess up the peace process," said Museveni. "Africa must provide some of the money."

He said Somalia needed "resources and not mere words" from the international community to complement any aid coming from within the African continent.

The swearing ceremony was attended by the Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the current chairman of the Africa Union, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, his Burundian counterpart Domitien Ndayizeye, the President of Djibouti Ismail Omar Guelleh and President Ali Abdallah Saleh of Yemen.

Sudan was represented by Vice President Ali Uthman Taha and Ethiopia was Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin. Also present was Mohammed Sahnoun and a number of other diplomats.

Somalia ceased to function as a modern state in 1991 when armed groups overthrew the regime of Muhammad Siyad Barre, precipitating a ruinous civil war that saw numerous warring warlords and their militias carve the country into fiefdoms.

Many previous attempts to end anarchy in Somalia failed. A reconciliation conference in Djibouti in 2000 led to the appointment of Abdulkassim Salad Hassan as president, but his administration was only able to exert authority in some parts of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and a few pockets of territory in the south of the country.

The new president is expected to appoint a prime minister, who will form a cabinet before the new administration can relocate to Mogadishu. The president and his government have a five-year mandate, after which, general elections will be held inside Somalia.

The administration in the self-declared republic of Somaliland in the northwest, which announced its break away from the rest of Somalia following Barre's overthrow, refused to take part in the two-year reconciliation conference in Kenya.

The new president was born in 1934 and studied law in the Somali National University before going to the former Soviet Union and later to Italy for military studies. He was Somalia’s military attaché to Moscow between 1965 and 1968.

Yusuf, a member of the Darod clan, was one of a group of people who in 1978 tried to oust Barre in a failed coup. Most of the coup plotters were executed, but Abdullahi Yusuf managed to flee the country. Later that year, he formed the Somali Salvation Democratic Front, one of the first armed groups to wage a military campaign against Barre's regime.