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Top Somali leaders to heal rifts before parliament meets


MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia's president, prime minister and parliamentary speaker are expected to meet to mend rifts before parliament convenes for the first time in the country later this month, officials said on Thursday.

The meeting between President Abdullahi Yusuf, Prime Minister Mohamed Ali Gedi and Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Aden is a critical precursor to the parliament session due on February 26.

Whether the parliament can meet as agreed in the southern city of Baidoa is seen as a major test of whether the anarchic country's transitional government can heal a deep split that has all but paralysed it.

The trio's meeting is expected in Yusuf's hometown of Galkaayo in the semi-autonomous northern region of Puntland, after Hassan arrives on Friday.

"There are no major problems between us, but I am ready to discuss any outstanding issues with them," Hassan told Reuters from Baidoa.

Yusuf and Gedi are in Galkaayo already, and the three are expected to iron out last-minute security details, outstanding issues and plan the agenda.

"The meeting in Galkaayo aims to remove small differences and some misunderstandings among them," Information Minister Mohamed Abdi Hayr told Reuters.

Late last month, Gedi criticised a decision by Hassan and Yusuf to convene parliament, saying he had not been consulted. His comments suggested continued divisions within Somalia's transitional administration.

"The prime minister is interested in solving the crises between him and the speaker," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told Reuters from Galkaayo.

The deal for parliament to meet in lawless Somalia has raised hopes among Somalis that the government can finally put a stop to the anarchy that has plagued the country since former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in 1991.

The interim government was formed in late 2004 following protracted talks among rival Somali factions in neighbouring Kenya.

It returned home last year, but has very little control over the country of approximately 10 million and has been split into two feuding factions, one based in Mogadishu and the other the provincial town of Jowhar.

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