updated 2/24/2005 4:17:00 PM ET 2005-02-24T21:17:00

Hundreds of Somalis sang and shouted in welcome Thursday, as their president made his first trip home since forming his government in exile last year.

President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi are assessing whether it is finally safe enough to move their government from neighboring Kenya to Somalia and run their country from within.

The two men arrived in separate planes, leading a 47-member delegation that included eight Cabinet ministers and several lawmakers.

Officials of the government-in-exile have repeatedly pledged to return, only to delay the move.

“We need a government,” read placards held up by some of the hundreds who lined a road in this central Somali town to welcome the leaders. Other signs read: “Peace is our life, anarchy is our death.”

Somalia has not had an effective central government since clan-based warlords ousted dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Then they turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of 7 million into anarchy.

Yusuf and Gedi were to travel to six towns, beginning in Jowhar, about 55 miles north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to assess conditions for relocating the transitional government and parliament, Somalia’s Planning and International Cooperation Minister Abdirizak Osman told The Associated Press in Nairobi, Kenya.

They were to spend the night in Jowhar before heading for another part of Somalia, officials said, declining to identify the next destination because of security concerns.

“The objective of our visit is also to build confidence in the government” before its leaders finally return from exile in Kenya, said presidential spokesman Yusuf Mohamed Ismail.

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