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Somali President Promotes Education

Wrapping up his tour of U.S. cities with large Somali populations, the president of Somali spoke to a Columbus audience this morning. The president has been urging American Somalis to push the American government to increase humanitarian aid. But WOSU reports much of this morning's address focused on education.

A crowd of more than 200 welcomed Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed to the Columbus Convention Center. President Sheikh Ahmed's 12 minute speech stressed the importance of good schools to his country's future.

"Education I believe should be strengthened and it can lead to an immediate solution to the Somali problem," he said.

President Sheikh Ahmed said extremist groups like al-Qaida, which oppose government, are taking advantage of uneducated Somali youth and holding the country hostage.

"Most Somalis are young people. Most of them have never received formal education that can lead them to understand and to differentiate and to identify what they are in," the president said.

President Sheikh Ahmed blamed the civil war on Somalia's lack of educational opportunities, and he pleaded with the U.S. and its colleges and universities for help.

President Sheikh Ahmed also criticized religious extremists - calling their misrepresentations of Islam unacceptable. Later, though, he acknowledged no separation between religion and government in Somalia.

"Islam has principles in terms of political processes. One principal is the consultation with the whole public, it's the involvement of everybody, the people in what they are electing and what they are practicing," President Sheikh Ahmed said.

He said Islam's other principles are social justice as well as a competent government.

"And that principle specifies that if bad people are elected while good people are available that is not acceptable," he said.

The president touted Somalis as "active," "industrious" people. And he said he is prepared to save the country. But after the speech, while speaking to reporters, Sheikh Ahmed remained vague on how he would do it.

"The steps are clear: the construction of a constitution of government institutions; the social service agencies need to be restored; humanitarian assistance for people who are suffering. If we succeed in those efforts Somalia will succeed," the president said.

President Sheikh Ahmed said has the best chance of making the country's transitional government work because he was elected in a free, fair election