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Washington condemns extension of Somali assembly's term

By Richard Lough

NAIROBI (Reuters) - The United States Friday criticised Somali lawmakers for extending their parliament's term and said the move risked strengthening Islamist rebels fighting to rout the government.

Somalia has lacked an effective central government since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. First clan warlords and now Islamist insurgents mean the government controls little more than the capital Mogadishu.

Legislators voted overwhelmingly in favor of a three year extension beyond the assembly's end of term in August, prompting the U.S. embassy in Nairobi called the vote unilateralist and a disservice to the Horn of Africa nation.

Under the terms of a 2009 deal, Somalia was to have approved a new constitution and held a general election before August 20 2011 to help pull the country out of two decades of conflict.

Neither will be achieved, the U.N. said last week.

"In the whole of its existence, the TFP (Transitional Federal Parliament) has done little to meet the tasks assigned to it under the Djibouti process," Matt Goshko, public affairs officer at the United States' Somali Affairs Unit in Nairobi told Reuters.

"This unilateral three-year extension risks alienating the TFP further and serving as a propaganda coup for violent extremist groups," he said.

The United Nations called the extension disappointing.

One lawmaker said the chamber had acted on the recommendation by the regional IGAD bloc that parliament's term be urgently prolonged.

"If we had not extended our time, the government and parliament would face collapse. AU peacekeeping forces would also look like invaders. Who would elect government if there was no parliament?" Mohamud Abdullahi Waqaa told Reuters in Mogadishu.

In an earlier statement, the United States urged Somali parliamentarians to reconsider the extension and enter into consultations with both the local population, its regional allies, foreign donors and the United Nations on its fate.

"The decision (mandate extension) ... is a setback to the establishment of legitimate and effective government," the U.S. statement said.

(Additional reporting by Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu; Editing by George Obulutsa and Matthew Jones)

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