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Somali President, PM Agree on Elections, Mandate Extension

Somali government soldiers pass angry demonstrators gather at southern Mogadishu's presidential palace to protest against the anticipated resignation of the Somali prime minister in Mogadishu, Somalia, June 9, 2011

Somalia's feuding president and speaker of parliament have signed an agreement to hold elections and move their long-troubled country out of the transitional phase of government.

On Thursday morning in Uganda's capital, Kampala, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and Speaker of Parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden reached an agreement, called the "Kampala Accord," to move the country forward after months of bitter disputes. The agreement, brokered by Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni over a week of negotiations, says elections must take place no later than August 20, 2012.

The agreement also ends the political infighting over the extension of the Somali government's mandate. The internationally-approved mandate for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) was set to expire this August. Under the Kampala Accord, the mandates of both the Somali parliament and the president will run until the elections next year.

In addition, the agreement calls for Somalia's prime minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, to resign within 30 days.

But while this agreement appears to break the bitter deadlock between the speaker and president, Rashid Abdi of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group urges caution in assessing the accords.

"This is an agreement which is probably a compromise of some sort, but let's remember, this is an agreement that came largely as a result of Uganda pressure," Abdi noted. "The question is, is it going to be sustained?"

The agreement was reached under the heavy hand of Ugandan President Museveni, whose bargaining chip of Ugandan troops in Somalia, lends him considerable authority. Uganda currently contributes about 5,000 troops to the African Union peacekeeping mission in Mogadishu. The Somali government relies heavily on Uganda's battle-hardened troops to maintain its hold over parts of the capital and help drive Islamist militias out.

Some observers believe the agreement was forced by President Museveni, who threatened a troop pullout if President Ahmed and the speaker could not come together.

Abdi says such pressure can be useful, but is not likely to be sustained.

"The problem is, when this pressure is eased off, I think we will see a renewed fight again within the TFG," add Abdi.

There is already discontent brewing over the agreement in Somalia. Perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the accord was the resignation of the prime minister.

While progress is certainly slow in Somalia, Prime Minister Mohamed won over many within the country for his efforts at reform and his straightforward approach. After the Kampala Accord was announced early Thursday, tens of thousands reportedly gathered in Mogadishu and around Somalia in support of the prime minister.

Also Thursday, a spokesman for Somalia's electoral committee, Hareed Hassan Ali, announced the committee would continue its preparations for elections this year. Speaking to the media, Ali said the elections would take place before August regardless of the Kampala Accord.

Somalia has not had a functioning government since the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Since 2007, the Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab has waged war against the TFG trying to establish an Islamic state on the Horn of Africa.

The al-Qaida-linked group controls much of southern Somalia, though the TFG has reclaimed territory in recent months.