Moderate Islamist leader Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed was elected as the Somali president early Saturday by the newly expanded Somali transitional parliament in Djibouti, paving way for a national unity government for the war-torn Horn of Africa nation, according to reports reaching here.
In a speech after winning the parliamentary election on presidency in a second-round vote, Ahmed, who heads a moderate section of the opposition group, the Alliance for the Reliberation of Somalia (ARS), and signed a power-sharing agreement with the Somali transitional government in Djibouti last year, promised a clean government and good relations with neighbours in East Africa.
He called on other armed groups to join the peace process. Ahmed, in his early forties, thanked the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), Djibouti, the host country for the presidential election and UN-brokered Somali peace talks, and the international community as a whole for their part in making the Djibouti peace agreement a reality.
After the announcement of the election result, there was celebratory gunfire throughout Mogadishu, the Somali capital, where residents followed the event live on Djibouti state television channel and local FM radios.
Violence has continued in Somalia despite the signing in June 2008 of the UN-facilitated Djibouti Agreement by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), in which they agreed to end their conflict.
In October, both parties agreed on the outline of forming a Government of National Unity and expanding the Parliament, and the principles have been endorsed by the Transitional Federal Parliament.
The election of the new leader follows the resignation of President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed last month.
Meanwhile, some 150 new members of Somalia's Transitional Federal Parliament belonging to the ARS were sworn in on Wednesday in Djibouti as part of an effort to bring former rebel opponents into the government.
The Parliament, which voted on Monday to expand by an additional 275 members, also agreed to extend its term until August 2011.
Some 75 Parliamentary seats are being kept vacant, but will be allocated at a future date to those still to join, including members of civil society and opposition who are not members of the ARS.