May 10, 2011 / 3:32 PM / in 7 years

Somalia bars lawmakers from talks, US worried

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - The United States voiced concerns on Tuesday about Somalia’s decision to temporarily block dozens of lawmakers from travelling abroad as a power struggle among its bickering leaders intensified.

Most of the 48 legislators had been due to travel on Monday to Kenya to take part in talks about possible elections in the Horn of Africa country, torn by a long-running insurgency, once the mandates of its interim institutions end in August.

Security personnel threatened several parliamentarians with weapons and at least three were physically assaulted, the U.S. embassy in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, said in a statement.

“This action follows other efforts by the TFG (Transitional Federal Government) in recent weeks to stifle peaceful political discussion and to silence its critics,” the statement said.

Lawmaker Abdirahman Kulmiye Dheere said one colleague was left bleeding profusely from the head after being beaten with a pistol.

“The police beat us and prevented us from boarding the plane,” Dheere told Reuters.

The political row has pitted President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, a former Islamist rebel seeking another term in office, against speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden, Somalia’s second most powerful politician who harbours presidential ambitions.

One option being touted is an extension of parliament’s mandate -- although donors are at odds over the duration -- so lawmakers can elect a new speaker and president.

It is widely accepted, though, that this would be a route to the presidency for the speaker given his wealth and clout in parliament, and would be rejected by Ahmed.

The president has been widely criticised for failing to crush a four-year insurgency waged by Islamist militants and push through political reform, including a new constitution, that would pave the way for elections.

Ahmed said the parliamentarians were acting unconstitutionally.

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