LONDON, UK – Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, the first president of Somalia’s interim government, has died in exile at the age of 77 after years of ill health.
The veteran politician, warlord and strongman died on Friday due to complications of pneumonia in Abu Dhabi where he was receiving treatment, The New York Times reports. He had undergone a liver transplant operation in 1996.
Yusuf was chosen as the first president of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG) by a parliament established in 2004 with UN assistance after years of peace talks in Kenya.
But he failed to engender any meaningful reconciliation between Somalia’s warring clans and factions, and was viewed as an obstacle to peace over his refusal to negotiate with Islamist groups and tendency to carve up positions of power along clan lines, the BBC reports.
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While popular in his home area of Puntland in north-eastern Somalia, he was rejected by many Somalis for inviting Ethiopian forces into the country to help him crush the Union of Islamic Courts, a loose alliance of sharia courts and clans which gained control over much of southern and central Somalia – including the capital, Mogadishu – in 2006, the Agence France Presse reports.
He was forced to resign two years later as the country sank further into chaos, and was granted asylum in Yemen following his departure.
Yusuf’s political career spanned 50 years. Once Somalia’s military attaché to the former Soviet Union in the 1960s, he spent time in both Somali and Ethiopian prisons under the respective dictatorships of Siad Barre and Mengistu Haile Mariam, and survived several assassination attempts, including one in 2006 which led to the death of his brother and several bodyguards, according to the Associated Press.
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