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Somali constitution must defend religious freedom: donors

Monday, July 02, 2012

ROME (AFP) — International donors on Monday said Somalia's new constitution must enshrine principles of religious freedom and stressed that the country's political transition should be completed by August 20.

Somali leaders at the talks in Rome meanwhile emphasised the importance of bringing aid to areas of the country reconquered from Islamist rebels in recent weeks.

They said a new constitutional assembly would be in place by July 12.

"We must insist on and ensure that principles of equality and religious freedom are enshrined in the new constitution," said Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, host of the International Contact Group on Somalia meeting.

"Christians and other religions must be free to practice," he said, following reports that a draft of the constitution excludes religions other than Islam.

The constitution is to be adopted by August 20 as part of a UN-led political process.

The meeting in Rome brought together officials from 28 countries and representatives of international agencies including Augustine Mahiga, the United Nations special representative for Somalia.

But a policy paper distributed at the conference in Rome said the transition towards a new government for Somalia still had a long way to go.

"Many of the tasks contained in the roadmap remain incomplete," it said.

Somalia's speaker of parliament Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden said: "The situation in Somalia is at a critical juncture.... If we conclude this transition, we hope a new chapter will open for the Somali people."

Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali said: "We are preparing the groundwork for a new Somalia. The Somali nation on August 20 will celebrate a new dawn."

A group of traditional elders would by Friday select delegates for an assembly that will approve the new constitution, he said.

Somalia's leaders adopted a draft constitution in Nairobi last month.

Shebab rebels have been forced to abandon their positions in the capital Mogadishu in recent months by an African Union force fighting together with the fledgling Somali army and troops sent by Kenya and Ethiopia.

The military operations have also wrested back control of many of the Shebab's bastions in southern and central Somalia.

Somalia has been without a stable central government since the ouster of former president Siad Barre in 1991.


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