, NAIROBI, May 14 – Hardline Somali leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who has spearheaded a deadly military offensive in Mogadishu in recent days, on Thursday urged President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to leave office.
"I am calling on Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to abandon his self-proclaimed presidential job in order to spare the lives of Somalis," Aweys told AFP by phone from the Somali capital.
Dozens of people have been killed since last week when insurgent forces including the radical Islamist Shebab group and Aweys’ armed organisation Hezb al-Islam launched an unprecedented offensive to remove Ahmed from power.
The internationally-backed president of Somalia’s transitional federal administration only controls a handful of streets and buildings in Mogadishu.
On Thursday, insurgent fighters were deployed around the presidency and the capital’s key institutions, in a tense standoff with African Union peacekeepers and government forces.
"We have no real Somali government to speak of but foreign puppets who call themselves the leaders of Somalia," Aweys said, brushing off accusations by the United Nations that he was masterminding a coup.
"No country in the world will accept an imported leadership. The Somalis are equally free to reject that," he said.
Aweys and Sharif were two of the Islamist leaders who took over most of Somalia in 2006 before being ousted by an Ethiopian invasion in support of the TFG.
Sharif eventually joined the UN-sponsored reconciliation process based in Djibouti and was elected Somalia’s president in January, days after Ethiopia, which intervened in 2006 to prop up the weak transitional government, completed its military pullout.
Aweys has always rejected the Djibouti process and returned from exile in Eritrea last month, vowing he would continue to oppose the government as long as African Union peacekeepers remained on Somali soil.