Somalia inaugurates its first president in a decade

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Somalia inaugurated its first president in almost a decade in a colorful ceremony attended by four African leaders, a display of regional support for which Somalis were desperate.

Somalia inaugurated its first president in almost a decade in a colorful ceremony attended by four African leaders, a display of regional support for which Somalis were desperate.

To the delight of Somalis glued to their televisions Sunday, President Abdiqasim Salad Hassan said he would stand up against nepotism, injustice and tribalism.

"The government will safeguard the rights of every Somali citizen, giving special consideration to the rights of women and all other ill-treated ones," said Hassan, who defeated 15 other candidates in presidential elections early Saturday.

In attendance at the ceremony were the presidents of Yemen, Sudan and Eritrea, as well as the prime minister of Ethiopia.

Hassan's inauguration brought joy to Somalis who have barely slept since the election began in Arta, a small town in neighboring Djibouti where the 13-day-old Somali Parliament is currently sitting.

Like the election, the inauguration, which involved artists, singers, poets and musicians from both Somalia and Djibouti, was broadcast live on television in Somalia. Hassan, a member of the powerful Hawiye clan, walked along a red carpet, placed his hand on the Koran and was sworn in.

"We want a government ... police for security and schools for our children," chanted hundreds of men, women and children as they celebrated on Mogadishu's dusty streets, which so often in the past have been scenes of bloodshed.

"We have been in a sort of captivity. We need the government to bring us freedom," Hassan Mohamed Ali, a businessman in the central town of Baidoa, said over the telephone as people celebrated in the street outside his house.

Somalia has been synonymous with chaos and violence and has had no central government since opposition leaders joined forces to oust dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Factional leaders then fought with each other, turning the Horn of Africa nation into battling fiefdoms ruled by heavily armed militias.

Parliament's election of 58-year-old Hassan, who promised to bring economic recovery and peace to the nation of 7 million, came as a result of a conference that began in Arta on May 2.

The brainchild of Djibouti President Ismael Omar Guelleh, it was the 13th attempt at finding a peaceful solution to Somalia's lack of government.

Optimism aside, some observers warned that many hurdles to peace lay ahead.

"The search for peace and prosperity in Somalia will not be smooth nor will it be achieved quickly. Formidable challenges are waiting the new Somalia administrative structure," David Stephen, the United Nations' observer to the peace process and one of the few Westerners involved, said in his opening address.

At some point soon, after a prime minister and cabinet have been appointed, the new assembly will have to move to Somalia and it is then that the body will be truly tested. On their return home, the president and his 245 legislators face the daunting task of persuading faction leaders opposed to the peace process to respect them.

And the parliament, which will be penniless and encountered with a virtually destroyed infrastructure, will have to recruit the militiamen who cruise the streets into a new national security force and then set about collecting taxes.

Among those opposed to the peace process are the leaders of the breakaway regions of Somaliland and Puntland, self-declared President Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and Col. Abdullahi Yussuf, respectively. The pair have established relative stability and their own administrations in the northern regions.

Egal says he will not join the peace process until there is peace throughout Somalia, so the two "governments" can talk, while Yussuf has rejected the process because many faction leaders did not attend.

However, representatives and traditional leaders from both regions have played a significant role in the Djibouti conference and new assembly.

The president and assembly, which is designed to represent Somalia's clan structure, are expected to be in power for a three-year transitional period.

Also in attendance were representatives from the Organization of African Unity, the Arab League, Kenya and Egypt.