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Somalia swears in 211 new members of parliament

Yesterday marks the end of the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government, however the number of parliamentarians falls short of target and election of president is delayed.

MOGADISHU // In a milestone for war-ravaged Somalia, the country's chief justice has sworn in 211 new members of parliament.

However, the number fell short of what was required as Somalian leaders should have chosen 275 members of parliament and voted for a new president by yesterday, the end of the UN-backed Transitional Federal Government.

The process has been slowed by corruption and intimidation.

Politicians gathered yesterday not in the city's parliament building, but Mogadishu's heavily fortified airport zone under the protection of African Union troops, due to the fear of attack by Al Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents.

The parliament's interim speaker Musa Hassan Abdallah appealed yesterday to the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) for an "alternative place of safe haven" to meet.

Selection of the new legislature was the first in Somalia for more than 20 years. Previous efforts were conducted outside the country because of the threat of attack from warlords and Islamist fighters.

The airport adjoins the base for the nearly 17,000-strong AU force, which has propped up Somalia's western-backed leadership against attacks by the hardline Shebab.

The parliament held its inaugural session on the airport tarmac, with the election of speaker and president expected in the coming days.

"The presidential elections will not be held today," said Aweys Qarni, a legislator. "The election committee must still be convened ... There is still work to go before the presidential elections."

Abinasir Garale, who served in the previous parliament and is part of the new legislature, said they would hold elections soon.

Despite delays, the process of forming a new government was hailed as an "unprecedented opportunity for greater peace and stability" in a joint statement on Sunday from the UN, AU, United States and European Union. Analysts have taken a gloomier outlook on the process, suggesting it offers little but a reshuffling of positions.

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