Somalia

Somali govt says weakened by Islamist onslaught

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By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU, Nov 16 (Reuters) - President Abdullahi Yusuf has admitted Islamist insurgents now control most of Somalia and raised the prospect his government could completely collapse.

Islamists have been slowly advancing on the capital, raising the stakes in their two-year rebellion and undermining fragile U.N.-brokered peace talks to end 17 years of chaos in the Horn of Africa nation. A grenade attack on Sunday killed four people and injured nine others in Baidoa, the government's seat.

"Most of the country is in the hands of Islamists and we are only in Mogadishu and Baidoa, where there is daily war," Yusuf told some of his legislators in neighbouring Kenya on Saturday.

His remarks were aired by Somali media late on Saturday.

"We, ourselves, are behind the problems and we are accountable in this world and in the hereafter. Islamists have been capturing all towns and now control Elasha. It is every man for himself if the government collapses.

"The Islamists kill city cleaners, they will not spare legislators," Yusuf said.

Elasha is only 15 km (9 miles) south of Mogadishu.

The insurgents have been enforcing a strict form of Islamic law in areas they capture. On Saturday, they whipped 32 people for taking part in a traditional dance in rebel-held territory south of the capital.

Last month, they stoned to death a young woman accused of adultery in the southern port of Kismayu. It was the first such public killing by the hardline militants for about two years.

Yusuf blamed his government's ineffectiveness partly on disagreements between him and Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein.

HUMANITARIAN DISASTER

Regional head of states held a Somali crisis meeting at the end of October and demanded the four-year administration name a new cabinet within 15 days.

"The prime minister gave me a list of new cabinet ministers but I do not know how to approve names of those who destroyed our government when the constructive ones were excluded," Yusuf told the legislators.

"We have no government (ministers) and we should go back to our country very quickly and establish a government."

Yusuf is in Nairobi to meet MPs who remained after the regional meeting. Some analysts said he lobbied them to vote against the list of ministers the prime minister forwarded to him when the matter was tabled in parliament.

Meanwhile, the insurgency continues. "Three women and a baby died after Islamists hurled two hand grenades at police patrolling Baidoa's main market on Sunday," Abdihakim Abdi, chief of police operations, told Reuters.

A Somali aid worker was also critically injured when gunmen shot him in the head in Merka, a port city captured by the rebels on Wednesday.

Islamists ruled Mogadishu and most of south Somalia for half of 2006. Allied Ethiopian and Somali government forces toppled them but they have waged an Iraq-style guerrilla campaign since then, gradually taking back territory.

As when they controlled the capital in 2006, the Islamists are again providing much-needed security in many areas but are unpopular with many moderate Muslims in Somalia for also imposing fundamentalist practices.

The turmoil in Somalia has caused instability across the Horn of Africa, fuelling one of the world's worst humanitarian disasters and triggering a wave of pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden, a vital shipping lane for trade between Europe and Asia. - Additional reporting by Mohamed Ibrahim and Mohamed Ahmed in Baidoa

(Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; editing by Ralph Boulton) (For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/)

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