Saturday, December 30, 2006

Somalis Protest US-backed Invasion by Ethiopia; Martial Law Declared

17:10 MECCA TIME, 14:10 GMT

Anti-Ethiopian protest in Mogadishu

Somalian Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi made a triumphant return to the capital

Mogadishu on Friday witnessed a noisy demonstration against Ethiopian troops who have helped Somalia's weak government wrest control of the capital from fighters of the Islamic Courts Union.

The demonstration coincided with the arrival of Somalia's prime minister in the battle-scarred capital in a heavily armed convoy.

The protesters, chanting anti-Ethiopian slogans, threw stones and burnt tyres in two separate neighbourhoods as Ali Mohamed Gedi, the prime minister, left the nearby town of Afgoye, 20km away and headed for the capital.


"Thousands of angry people have started a violent demonstration in the northern part of the city, particularly in Tawfiq and Suuqaholaha areas," said Abdulsatar Dahir Sabrie, a resident.

"People are burning tyres in the streets and they are shouting 'We do not want Ethiopians to enter town.' They are also throwing stones," he added.

No injuries were immediately reported.

Demonstrator Abdulahi Shegow Nur shouted, "We do not want Ethiopian troops to enter our city. They must stay out."

Trucks fitted with loudspeakers roamed the city, blaring patriotic music to welcome the prime minister.

Gedi drove through the international airport past Ethiopian tanks guarding the runway. Earlier, Ethiopian troops aboard tanks fired warning shots into the air after dozens of young men threw stones as the convoy travelled through the city.

Crowds lined the streets as the Western-backed interim government's premier drove into the capital.

Gedi, whose interim government had been confined to its base in the provincial town of Baidoa until less than two weeks ago, said parliament would vote to declare martial law.

Defiant fighters

A senior Somali Islamic Courts leader on Friday vowed his fighters will "never surrender to Ethiopians and the government" and warned of guerrilla ambushes on the allied forces.

"You think that Islamic courts have failed and the Ethiopian invaders have won in Somalia? I tell you within days everything will be changed," commander Sheikh Mohamed Ibrahim Bilal told AFP, a day after the fighters left the capital Mogadishu.

"We will never surrender to Ethiopians and the government of [Somali President] Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed," he told AFP from Kismayo, the last Islamic fighters' stronghold, a port town about 500km south of Mogadishu.

In the face of Ethiopian fire, most of the hardline clerics, including the movement's leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, fled Mogadishu for Kismayo.

"I assure you that the Islamic forces are everywhere in the country and you will see the forces operating within days. What we will do is hit and run. We will ambush their convoys everywhere in Somalia," he added.

Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, whose military is supporting the Somali government, has vowed to pursue the Islamic Courts fighters, accused of ties with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, until he kicks them out of the country.

Source: Agencies

2:31 MECCA TIME, 23:31 GMT

Somalia to declare martial law

The Islamic Courts' chairman said that his side's hasty withdrawal was a tactical move

Ali Mohamad Gedi, the Somali prime minister, has said that parliament will declare a period of martial law to maintain control of the country after Ethiopian and government troops wrested the capital from rival Islamists.

Gedi told reporters on Thursday that the martial law would be declared on Saturday for a period of three months.

"This country has experienced anarchy and in order to restore security we need a strong hand, especially with freelance militias," he said.

The fall of Mogadishu came after a 10-day offensive by government and allied forces to reclaim much of the territory seized by the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) since June.

While Gedi on Thursday celebrated a triumphant return to his home village outside Mogadishu for the first time since 2002, he acknowledged that the chaotic country was far from stable.

The flight of the Islamists was a dramatic turn-around in the Horn of Africa nation, which has not had an effective government since the 1991 ouster of a dictator, after they had spread across the south imposing sharia rule and confined the interim government to its base in Baidoa until less than two weeks ago.

Terrified of yet more violence in a city that has become a byword for chaos, some Mogadishu residents took to the streets to cheer government troops, while others hid. Some SICC fighters ditched their uniforms to avoid reprisals.

Abdirahman Dinari, the government spokesman, said the Islamists had fled to the southern port city of Kismayu and that the administration now controlled 95 per cent of Somalia.

But analysts said a government victory was in no way certain and that the conflict could be about to take another turn.

The prime minister says troops have entered Mogadishu after the Council of Islamic Courts abandoned the city.

Gedi, who met with clan leaders to discuss the handover of the city, said, "we are co-ordinating our forces to take control of Mogadishu".

Gunfire could be heard and looting has been reported in the power vacuum that has followed the departure of the Islamic courts fighters on Thursday.

Mohammed Adow, Al Jazeera's Somalia correspondent, said the Islamic courts' decision to pull out was unexpected.

He said: "They had promised the Somali people to defend Mogadishu to the last man, but this hasn't happened.

"As they head for the south, the chances look very remote for the Islamic courts to assemble their fighters again in order to be able to wage any war against the Ethiopian and Somali government fighters."

Power vacuum

One former Islamic courts fighter said: "We have been defeated. I have removed my uniform. Most of my comrades have also changed into civilian clothes."

"People are cheering as they wave flowers to the troops," said one resident of the Somali capital, adding that scores of military vehicles had passed the Somalia National University.

Mohamed Jama Fuuruh, a member of the Baidoa-based Somali parliament, said: "The government has taken over Mogadishu. We are now in charge ... There will be no problems and everything will be fine."

Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian prime minister, confirmed that Somali transitional government forces and Ethiopian troops would pursue the Islamic courts leaders.

"We are discussing what to do so that Mogadishu will not descend into chaos. We will not let Mogadishu burn," he said in Addis Ababa.

Speaking for the transitional government spokesman, Abdirahman Dinari said that it had some way to go towards taking over.

"We are taking control of the city and I will confirm when we have established complete control," he said.

"Our forces effectively control Mogadishu because we have taken over the two control points on the main roads outside the city."

Later Dinari told Al Jazeera the government had declared a state of emergency "to control security and stability".

'Old anarchy'

The Islamic courts' chairman has said that his side's hasty withdrawal was a tactical move in a war that began last week against Ethiopian troops defending Somalia's weak government.

One resident said: "Uncertainty hangs in the air."

"My worst fear is the capital will succumb to its old anarchy. The government should come in now and take over - this is the best chance they have before the city falls into the hands of the warlords again."

Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow said that local commanders have already begun taking over parts of the city.

"It looks now that the government has on its hands a very difficult task in pacifying Mogadishu ... It looks like Ethiopian troops will be here for some time to come".

Dinari said Yusuf Abdullahi, the Somali president, and Ali Mohamed Gedi, the prime minister, remained in the transitional government's south-central base in Baidoa and would move to Mogadishu at the earliest opportunity.

The government has long viewed Mogadishu as too dangerous to move to, but its return would be a key step in achieving greater legitimacy.

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

December 31, 2006

Somalia’s Islamists Vow Never to Surrender


ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Dec. 30 — A phalanx of Ethiopian tanks and armored personnel carriers chugged toward Kismayo, the last city occupied by Somalia’s diminished Islamist movement, witnesses said Saturday, while the Islamists inside the city dug in and vowed never to surrender.

According to residents along Somalia’s coast, the Ethiopian troops, with soldiers from Somalia’s transitional government, were preparing to seize Kismayo, a port city near the Kenyan border.

Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, a high-ranking cleric, emerged from a mosque in the city on Saturday, surrounded by gunmen, and told his followers that the Islamist leadership was not finished.

“The Islamic courts are still alive and ready to fight against the enemy of God,” Sheik Ahmed told residents of Kismayo in a speech on Saturday. “We left Mogadishu in order to prevent bloodshed in the capital, but that does not mean we lost the holy war against our enemy.”

Sheik Ahmed called on Somalis to begin an anti-Ethiopian insurgency. Already, several masked gunmen have surfaced on Mogadishu’s streets, suggesting a guerrilla movement may have begun.

Diplomats in Kenya, though, said that they were talking to moderate representatives of the Islamic movement on Saturday, trying to persuade them to back down. The Islamists are essentially cornered, hemmed in by the Indian Ocean, a sealed Kenyan border and thousands of troops headed their way. Their only route of escape may be to flee into the thickly forested area south of Kismayo, which Western intelligence officers suspect has been used before as a terrorist hide-out.

In Mogadishu, the presence of Ethiopian soldiers continued to spark scattered violence, with supporters of the Ethiopians battling street by street against the remaining Islamist partisans. Gunshots rang out, men and women battled with sticks and rocks and the thick black smoke of burning barricades lifted into the air.

Just two days ago, in a stunning reversal of fortune, Somalia’s transitional government, with the muscle of the Ethiopian military, reclaimed Mogadishu from the Islamist movement that had ruled large swaths of Somalia. Despite the Islamists’ repeated vows to fight to the death, their forces evaporated and Mogadishu fell without a shot. Many Somalis said Saturday that they hoped the same thing would happen in Kismayo.

More than a thousand people have been killed in fighting across the country since Dec. 20, and Somalia’s leaders now face the daunting task of trying to piece together a country that has not had a functioning central government for 15 years.

Sheikhdon Salad Elmi, the director of a large hospital in the Medina neighborhood of Mogadishu, said the prospects for stability depended on how long the Ethiopian troops stayed. “I think it’s na├»ve for them to go right now,” Dr. Elmi said. “We need them for security. But they are very visible and most people don’t like them. The longer they stay, the more resentment that will come.”

Somalia has fought, and lost, two wars with Ethiopia, but never before have Ethiopian troops occupied the capital. On Saturday, some supporters of the Ethiopians waved pictures of Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s prime minister. “It’s very humiliating,” Dr. Elmi said.

Ethiopian officials have said that they plan to withdraw troops in a matter of weeks but not before neutralizing the Islamists, who declared a holy war against Ethiopia, a country with a long Christian history and Somalia’s larger and more powerful neighbor.

The Ethiopian military, with tacit American approval, unleashed a fierce attack against the Islamists last Sunday, bombarding their positions with jet fighters and pushing tanks deep into Somali territory.

Since then, the Islamists have been steadily on the run, their teenage troops no match for Ethiopia’s well-equipped modern army.

Mohammed Ibrahim and Yuusuf Maxamuud contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.