Peace Rally A Blend of Show Biz, Rhetoric With AM-Somalia
MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ South Mogadishu’s biweekly peace rallies have become something of a variety show: some music, a little comedy and a dose of religious rhetoric.
More than 2,000 people, mostly women and children, sweltered in the late- morning sun Thursday for one of the regular demonstrations to praise Gen. Mohamed Farrah Aidid and denounce the United Nations.
The women’s wraparound skirts and scarves created a shimmering sea of colors, with blue-and-white Somali flags waving like sails. Some carried Aidid’s portrait, held in place on sticks with yellow ″FRAGILE″ shipping tape. One teen-age boy wore a T-shirt with an American flag.
Aidid, who remains in hiding with a $25,000 bounty on his head even though the massive search operation for him has ended, has been trying to bolster his support and portray himself as a peacemaker.
In 21 October Square, there was no mention that Thursday was the 24th anniversary of the coup that brought former dictator Mohammed Siad Barre to power. Barre used to hold massive rallies at the same place to commemorate the date.
There was only support for Aidid and derision for the United Nations.
In a land of uncertainty and violence, where a group’s mood can change in a flash, wading into a crowd here can make Western reporters uneasy.
This was a largely happy, rowdy group. But the memory of July 12, when four journalists were killed by a mob angry over a deadly U.N. aerial attack on Aidid officials, is never far from reporters’ minds.
As one television crew left Thursday, a man lunged toward their backs with a dagger in hand. The crowd restrained him and forced him to relinquish his knife. It was not clear if he actually intended harm or was only brandishing the blade.
The program started about 10:30 a.m. with Halima Khalif the main attraction. Nicknamed ″Magol,″ or rainbow, she’s been a star on the local music scene since the late 1960s.
With seven backup singers, a four-piece band and a battered amplifier, Khalif soon had the crowd clapping and singing along.
Next came a comedy skit in which a mock U.N. character acting stupid was beaten. The punch lines were delivered with drum rolls.
Mohamed Mire, a top official of Aidid’s clan, followed with a statement. Made in English, it clearly was for the benefit of the foreign media.
Mire said the Somali National Alliance wants peace and that the United Nations has been at fault for the violence. He praised the recent shift in U.S. policy and welcomed Thursday’s start of redeployment for the U.S. Army Rangers who came to Somalia to capture Aidid.
And with vocal backing from the crowd, he blasted U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, an Egyptian Coptic Christian who is not generally well- liked in Muslim Somalia. There have been rumors that Boutros-Ghali, currently in Nairobi, may visit here.
″We will not allow him to set foot on this land,″ Mire told a cheering crowd. ″We don’t want Boutros-Ghali’s solutions.″
After stubbing out her cigarette with fingers dyed black to the first knuckle, Khalif adjusted her gilt-edged black scarf and came back for a couple more numbers, then did an encore at the audience’s insistence.
She was only interrupted once, with the crowd lifted up a man carrying a Somali flag while they erupted into chants of ″Aidid 3/8 Aidid 3/8″
As the band put away their instruments and the speakers began with an opener who leaned heavily on the Koran, about half the crowd left, rushing for prime spots on the overloaded open trucks that would take them home.