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Islamist leader wins Somali presidency

SOMALIA'S moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Ahmed won the presidency yesterday and vowed to end conflict in the Horn of Africa nation, make peace with neighbors and rule with honesty and justice.

Legislators applauded, and Ahmed smiled and raised his arms aloft, after winning the election in a run-off vote during an all-night parliament session.

Analysts say Ahmed has a chance of reuniting Somalis, given his Islamist roots and the backing of parliament. But reconciling the country's 10 million people and stopping 18 years of bloodshed remain a daunting task even for him.

Ahmed headed the sharia courts movement that brought some stability to Mogadishu and most of south Somalia in 2006, before Ethiopian troops ousted them from power.

"The conflict in Somalia will be resolved. We are urging our brothers in armed conflict to join us in peace-building," he told parliament.

After being sworn in at a hotel in the neighboring nation of Djibouti yesterday morning, Ahmed flew to Ethiopia, the very country that chased him from Somalia, to attend a summit. When he returns to Somalia he will try to put together a unity government.

Legislators met in neighboring Djibouti due to the instability at home. But they hope they have elected a man able to isolate or possibly bring on board hard-line insurgents.

Despite the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops earlier last week, hard-line Islamist insurgents have vowed to fight on. One rebel group said just before the vote that it would start a new campaign of hit-and-run attacks on the government - whoever came to power.

Ahmed said those fighting to impose a strict version of Islamic law throughout the country had misinterpreted the religion and he would try to correct that.


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