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Demonstrations Turn Violent in Somalia

September 25, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Fears of regional conflict soared as angry demonstrations against Somalia’s radical Islamic militia grew Monday into deadly violence in a southern port city, and the militia for the first time acknowledged getting help from foreign Muslims.

Ethiopian forces, meanwhile, arrived to support the internationally recognized government in its face-off with the radicals. Witnesses saw about 300 Ethiopians in a convoy of 50 armored trucks in Bardaale, 40 miles west of Baidoa, the only town held by the weak government. Islamic forces believe Ethiopian troops aim to cut off their route between Kismayo and Mogadishu.

``The incursion of Ethiopian troops into Somali territories is a declaration of war on Somalia,″ Sheik Yusuf Indahaadde, national security chairman for the Islamic group, told The Associated Press by telephone from Mogadishu. ``We call on the international community to urge Ethiopia to withdraw its troops from Somalia. If that doesn’t happen, the consequences of insecurity created by Ethiopia will spread to neighboring countries and to East Africa as a whole.″

As it has established authority in the capital and across much of the south starting in June, the Islamic group’s strict interpretation of Islam has sparked comparisons with Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban. The United States has accused the Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden has portrayed Somalia as a battleground in his war on the U.S.

Islamic militiamen wearing white headbands opened fire on several thousand people demonstrating against them in the port of Kismayo, 260 miles southwest of Mogadishu, killing a 13-year-old boy, said resident Abdiqadir Filibin.

Two other children were injured, witnesses said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Sporadic gunfire could also be heard in other parts of the town.

The militia had seized Kismayo, one of the last remaining ports outside their control and Somalia’s third-largest city, on Sunday without a fight.

``They are ... al-Qaida and we do not want them,″ said Halimo Mohamed, one of the protesters in Kismayo. ``Theirs is not a religion. They are terrorists.″

But some Somalis have welcomed the order the Islamic group has brought to a country where the transitional government has struggled to assert authority since if was formed in 2004 and which has had no effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy.

Hassan Turki, leader of the Islamic militia, told a demonstration in support of his group in Kismayo earlier Monday that foreign militants were helping his fighters.

``They are your brothers in Islam,″ Turki said.

Turki, who is rarely seen in public, is on U.S. and U.N. lists of suspected terrorists for having alleged ties to al-Qaida.

In an interview with AP Monday, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said ``terrorists″ dominate the Islamic group.

Gedi, speaking in neighboring Kenya, called on the U.N. to partially lift an arms embargo to allow for the deployment of African peacekeepers, a move the radicals oppose.

The African Union has endorsed a plan by eastern African states to deploy peacekeepers in Somalia to protect Gedi’s weak, internationally recognized government.

The U.N. Security Council was expected to meet Monday to discuss a partial lifting of the embargo.

The Islamic group and Gedi’s government have agreed to a cease-fire, but the Islamic fighters have continued to advance across the country. Gedi accused the Islamic group of violating the nonaggression agreement.

Gedi would not comment on reports of Ethiopian troops entering Somalia, but did say he expected neighboring countries to protect his government.

Witnesses had reported several deployments of Ethiopian troops in support of the government in recent months. U.N. officials have confirmed the presence of a small number of Ethiopian troops around the town of Baidoa, saying the force was intended to defend the government and Ethiopian interests in Somalia. But Ethiopian and Somali officials repeatedly have denied any Ethiopian troops have crossed into the country.

``No Ethiopian troops have crossed the border into Somalia,″ Ethiopian foreign affairs spokesman Solomon Abebe reiterated Monday. The Islamic group ``violated the peace agreement by occupying the port city of Kismayo. Anytime the (Islamic group) takes a wrong step, it is well known that they use Ethiopia to hide their mistakes.″

The Islamic group has been able to use Somalis’ long-standing suspicions about Ethiopia to fan opposition to the government. Ethiopia and Somalia fought a war in 1977 to 1978 and view each other as enemies, but Yusuf is a longtime ally of Ethiopia.

___

Associated Press writers Salad Duhul in Mogadishu, Mohamed Olad Hassan in Baidoa and Chris Tomlinson in Nairobi contributed to this report.

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