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Ethiopian troops start vacating last bases in Somalia

ETHIOPIAN troops in Somalia have vacated a major base in the southern town of Baidoa, the seat of the Somali parliament and the only place in the country where the troops remain after two years in the war-wrecked Horn of Africa nation, a senior Somali government official said yesterday.

"The troops have vacated the former Hasey factory building and the remaining troops will fully withdraw from the town tomorrow (Monday)," Mohamed Ibrahim Habsade, a senior cabinet Minister said in Baidoa, 245 km southwest of Mogadishu.

The Ethiopian troops crossed over to Somalia to prop up the Somali transitional government and crush the Islamists who were in control in most of the southern and central regions in the second half of 2006.

The move to withdraw from Baidoa came a week after the Ethiopian troops pulled out of their bases in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. The withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops is part of a wide-ranging peace and power-sharing deal reached between the Somali transitional government and the main opposition coalition, the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia.

The two sides are now meeting in Djibouti City, the capital of the northwestern neighbor of Somalia, to work out a power-sharing arrangement stipulated in the agreement signed last year.

Under the agreement, the membership of the current Somali parliament will be doubled to include 200 members from ARS and 75 from Somali civil society groups, women and diasporas.

The expanded assembly will select a new speaker and the president, and a National Unity Government will be formed in a week before the one-month deadline set in the Somali Transitional Federal Charter for the selection of a new president after the resignation of former Somali leader Abdulahi Yusuf Ahmed on December 29.

Reports from Djibouti said most of the Somali lawmakers have arrived there and are holding a session to amend the national charter to allow the preliminary expansion and a possible extension of the deadline for the planned presidential election, which will expire this week.

The opposition ARS has reportedly finalized their nomination of their members to the parliament and will formally present the list to the parliament session to be endorsed while leader of the ARS Shiek Sharif Shiek Ahmed, a moderate Islamist, is expected to formally announce his candidacy for running the presidency.


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