New Somali leader feted in capital of former enemy

Mon Feb 2, 2009 2:36pm GMT

By Barry Moody

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - African leaders feted Somalia's new moderate Islamist president on Monday as a hope for peace in the anarchic nation but hardline former allies declared war on his government and called him a traitor.

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed was greeted with a standing ovation from African Union leaders at a summit in Ethiopia, whose army drove him out of power only two years ago. He came to the summit directly after being elected president of the Horn of Africa country in a parliamentary vote on Saturday.

Militant Islamists allied with Ahmed before he was ousted, declared jihad and mocked the trip to his former enemy, rallying their supporters for war against the new government.

Ahmed headed a sharia courts movement that brought some stability to Mogadishu and most of south Somalia in 2006, before Washington's main regional ally Ethiopia invaded to oust them.

Washington accused hardline members of the courts movement of having links with al Qaeda.

Ethiopia's army withdrew last month, clearing the way for Ahmed's election and raising tentative hopes for peace in the country, torn by conflict for 18 years.

But outgoing AU chairman Jakaya Kikwete told the summit the United Nations must lead the international community in helping Africa bring peace to Somalia.

Calling for U.N. troops to help a small AU peacekeeping force in Somalia, Kikwete told the second day of the annual summit that a rash of piracy offshore had internationalised the conflict.   Continued...

<p>Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, leader of the Alliance for Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS) and the new president of Somalia, listens during the opening session of the 12th African Union Summit in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna</p>
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