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Somali president visits Washington; local community leader responds

Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Douglas McIntire

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud joined a bipartisan gathering of members of Congress to welcome Somalia President Hassan Sheik Mohamud to the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.

In the newly elected president's first visit to the United States, he discussed the recent security gains and economic development of Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia.

Over the past several months, the U.N. Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that the number of attacks on aid workers fell from 13 in October to 4 and 5 in November and December, respectively.

The African Union Mission in Somalia has liberated Mogadishu and other areas from terrorist group Al-Shabaab and more humanitarian relief is reaching those who desperately need it, according to a news release from Michaud's office.

Locally, Mohamud's opponent in the Somalia election, Said Mohamed, greeted the leader's visit with a mixture of happiness and apprehension.

Speaking of the president's visit, Mohamed guessed he would visit Somali communities in America. "I would be really happy if he can come here," Mohamed said of his former opponent.

Mohamed said Maine is already represented in the new Somali government, citing Deputy Minister Mahdi Mohamud and Senior Member of Parliament Gen. Muse Hassan. It is a movement toward what Mohamed describes as Western intellectuals in government, which his own party strives for.

He said the first priorities of a Somali president's visit would be to address Washington about support, financial assistance and security. "Those who were before him took everything they had," said Mohamed, speaking of the already scarce resources the new government will have to work with.

Mohamed plans to return to Somalia in May to support the movement he started, the Somali People's Party, which he described as a social democratic, centrist, progressive party. Clarifying the goals of his party, Mohamed said the need is so great that the first role of the government should be to help the people. He sees a future Somalia as a place of secular, moderate democracy.

Of the current situation in Somalia, Mohamed remained cautious.

"They are scared about Western intellectuals," he said, warning that the new president is trying to be moderate but is also filling posts closest to him with religious extremists.

The new president is a member of the religious faction Al-Islah, Mohamed said, adding that the new government does not want people educated in the West but will court westerners for money to fund re-election.

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