MOGADISHU, Somalia, (AP) – The president of Somalia’s U.N.-backed government resigned Monday, saying he had lost control of the country to Islamic insurgents and could not fulfill his duties after four years leading the violent and impoverished nation.
Within hours of the announcement, mortars shells were raining down near the presidential palace in the capital, Mogadishu.
Abdullahi Yusuf announced his resignation to parliament in Baidoa — one of the only Somali towns controlled by the weak government, which has been sidelined by an increasingly powerful Islamic insurgency. The parliament speaker will stand in as acting president until Somalia can hold elections.
Yusuf said in an address broadcast on radio nationwide that he could not unite Somalia’s bickering leadership, and that the country was “paralyzed.”
“Most of the country is not in our hands,” Yusuf said. “After seeing all these things I have finally quit.”
Yusuf’s administration failed to bring security to the war-ravaged nation and now controls only Baidoa and pockets of Mogadishu. The most aggressive Islamic insurgency group, al-Shabab, has made dramatic territory gains in the past few months, and insurgents now control most of the country.
In a statement Monday, al-Shabab said Yusuf was resigning “with shame.”
Yusuf’s resignation could usher in more political and violent chaos as various Islamic militias jockey for position and power.
Thousands of civilians have been killed or maimed by mortar shells, machine-gun crossfire and grenades in near-daily fighting in this arid, Horn of Africa country. The United Nations says Somalia has 300,000 acutely malnourished children, but attacks and kidnappings of aid workers have shut down many humanitarian projects.
The lawlessness also has allowed piracy to flourish off the coast.
Rights groups have accused all sides in the conflict — Islamic insurgents, the government and troops from neighboring Ethiopia who are here supporting the administration — of committing war crimes and other serious abuses for indiscriminately firing on civilian neighborhoods.
The United States accuses al-Shabab of harboring the al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. Many of the insurgency’s senior figures are Islamic radicals; some are on the State Department’s list of wanted terrorists.
Yusuf’s position has been in doubt since parliament blocked his attempt to fire Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein earlier this month. Ethiopia also plans to withdraw its troops by the end of December, leaving the government even more vulnerable to insurgents.
The Ethiopians have been in Somalia for nearly two years, after helping drive out an earlier group of Islamic insurgents. But the insurgents regrouped and have gained significant power.
Somalia has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another. The current transitional government — formed with U.N. help in 2004 — has struggled to assert any real control over the country as it grapples with constant attacks in the capital.
Yusuf, a former colonel in the Somalia army during the 1960s, was jailed by Barre when he refused to cooperate in a coup d’etat in 1969. Although Yusuf is a member of one of Somalia’s four biggest clans, the Darod, he was unpopular in Mogadishu because of his ties to Ethiopia — one of Somalia’s traditional enemies.