Somalia's Prime Minister Survives No-Confidence Vote; First Commercial Flight in a Decade Leaves Mogadishu

Somalia's prime minister survived a no-confidence vote Sunday, just days after a group of lawmakers resigned in disgust and said his weak administration has failed to bring peace to this chaotic African country.

The motion before parliament to remove Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi needed 139 votes to pass but only got 126. Eighty-eight lawmakers voted to keep him.

"I respect those who voted against me and I respect those who voted for me," Gedi said after the vote. He added that the vote showed that Somalia's government is working.

CountryWatch: Somalia

The country's internationally recognized but virtually powerless government has been unraveling in recent weeks. The administration has no power outside its base in Baidoa, 150 miles from the capital of Mogadishu and has been wracked by infighting.

An Islamic militia, meanwhile, has seized control of the capital and much of southern Somalia. The group's imposition of strict religious courts has raised fears of an emerging Taliban-style regime. The United States accuses the group of harboring Al Qaeda leaders responsible for deadly bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

On Sunday, the first commercial flight departed from Mogadishu International Airport in more than a decade, illustrating the complete control held by Islamic militants.

A plane operated by a local company, Jubba Airways, was headed to the United Arab Emirates, said airline spokesman Abdurahman Hassan Mohamud Mufo.

"This is a historic flight for me," passenger Hawa Abdi Hussein said before boarding. "I think we at last gained peace and security."

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.

The anarchy has transformed Mogadishu, home to an estimated 1.2 million people, into a looted shantytown with no services. Before the airport reopened, local airlines operated from private airstrips outside the capital and passengers were forced to travel through roadblocks manned by armed warlords who demanded money.

"Mogadishu was like a huge prison where no one could get in or out," said Abdi Nur Hassan, a longtime resident of the capital.

Now, militiamen guard the airport for commercial passengers, said Sheik Muqtar Robow, deputy defense chief for the Islamic group. "They can land and take off at this airport," he said.

The news gratified Hussein Osman Kariye, a secondary school teacher in Mogadishu.

"I remember in the older days, happier times, when I would welcome my relatives from abroad. The airport was very beautiful then, well-lit, decorated and green," Kariye said.

The United States and other Western powers have cautioned outsiders against meddling in Somalia, which has no single ruling authority and can be manipulated by anyone with money and guns. But there is little sign the warning has been heeded.

Gedi has accused Egypt, Libya and Iran of providing weapons to Islamic militants.

The militants, meanwhile, say Ethiopia — Somalia's longtime enemy — is supporting the government.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazier said Saturday that both sides in the conflict have "invited in foreign forces" and that "neither the Union of Islamic Courts nor the transitional federal government can take the high ground."

"They've all been backed by foreign forces," she said Saturday from Kinshasa, Congo. She gave no specifics.