Image: Somalia protest
Mohamed Sheikh Nor  /  AP
Residents on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Somalia, take to the streets to protest against the president's nomination of a new prime minister.
updated 12/16/2008 5:36:48 PM ET 2008-12-16T22:36:48

Somalia's U.N.-backed government was crumbling Tuesday as the president defied parliament and Kenya announced sanctions against him in a strong public rebuke.

The government wields virtually no authority in the face of powerful Islamic insurgents who have taken over most of the Horn of Africa country.

Civilians have suffered most from the violence surrounding the insurgency, with thousands killed or maimed by mortar shells, machine-gun crossfire and grenades.

The United States worries that Somalia could be a terrorist breeding ground and accuses the most powerful Islamic faction, al-Shabab, of harboring the al-Qaida-linked terrorists who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Somalia's lawlessness has allowed piracy to flourish off the coast; bandits have taken in at least $30 million in ransom this year.

President Abdullahi Yusuf unilaterally fired Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein this week after months of public feuds over the best way to bring peace, but parliament soundly rejected Yusuf's decision and voted to keep the prime minister.

On Tuesday, Yusuf announced he was appointing a former interior minister, Mohamed Mohamud Guled, as the new prime minister.

Hours later, Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula called Yusuf an obstacle to peace and announced sanctions, including a travel ban and freezing any assets in Kenya.

"The region and international community should act in unison to collectively condemn all spoilers to the Somali peace process," Wetangula told journalists.

U.S. worries about instability
It was not immediately clear when the sanctions would go into effect, but they are a powerful charge because Kenya hosted the two-year-long peace talks that formed Yusuf's government in 2004.

In Washington, Deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood also criticized Yusuf.

"Efforts by President Yusuf to remove Prime Minister Nur basically undermine the transitional national government's efforts to promote peace and stability in the region, so this is a concern to us," Wood said Tuesday.

He said U.S. envoys have spoken with Somali officials and "they are certainly well aware of our views with regard to the importance of having a stable, working government in Somalia."

Somalia's U.N.-backed administration has been sidelined by Islamic militants and is veering toward collapse. The insurgents held a news conference in the capital, Mogadishu, on Sunday — a brazen move that shows their increasing power — and vowed never to negotiate with the leadership.

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictatorship and then turned on one another.

Ethiopia, which has been protecting the Somali government, recently announced it would withdraw its troops by the end of this month. That will leave the government vulnerable to Islamic insurgents, who began a brutal insurgency in 2007.

In the past, Islamists have brought some security to the country, but have done it by carrying out public executions and floggings. On Saturday, al-Shabab fighters publicly executed two men accused of killing their parents.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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