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Somalia creates new state, Azania

Somali politicians on Sunday announced the creation of a new state in the battle-scarred nation, a move condemned by Somalia's fragile government, which said it could further fracture the already chaotic Horn of Africa country.

The creation of Azania was celebrated Sunday in a colorful ceremony in Kenya's capital. Its creation brings the total number of new states to more than 10.

Kenya supports the new administration as it creates a buffer zone near its border with Somalia.

Azania President Mohamed Abdi Gandhi said his first duty is to retake his territory from al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab.

"Our aim of establishing this administration is to first liberate these regions," he said. "We are not breaking away from Somalia."

Much of Somalia's southern and central regions, including large swaths of the capital of Mogadishu, are controlled by al-Shabab.

But Somali Information Minister Abdulkareem Jama said the new states are a bad idea.

"Taking that path is a disaster," he said. "The idea that every region and every group of people has to form their own government without the consultation of the national government will only create more differences among communities and encourage Somalis not to come together."

Somalia's interim charter allows for new states. The idea is appealing to many, who still bear hatred toward the country's last centralized government, which failed to accommodate many residents outside the capital. Somalia has been mired in chaos since the fall of that government in 1991.

In 1991, inhabitants of northern Somalia formed their own administration called Somaliland. The region is independent from Mogadishu but does not have international recognition.

In 1998, residents of the northeast followed suit by creating the semiautonomous region of Puntland.

"The whole process is being driven by local people who just said 'let's try at different options that are responsive to our local needs,'" said Rashid Abdi, a Somali expert at the International Crisis Group.

Many say the rush to form these states may create conflicts among communities because of the lack of demarcated borders. The national government can do little, as it can barely control a few blocks of the capital, where it is busy battling Islamist militants.

"The biggest danger of this trend is that in a few contested areas the declaration of regional administrations could trigger armed clashes between clans or other social groups," said Ken Menkhaus, a Somali expert at North Carolina's Davidson College.

By law, the government is required to promote and develop state governments to ensure that the process of federalism takes place within two and a half years.

"The government has failed those people who are establishing new administrations," said Asha Gele, Puntland's minister for women and family affairs, and one of the founders of the administration. "If the government gave them directions they would not have acted by themselves. What is missing is the government's role."