Furious protesters march through Somali capital

At least two people killed in protest against the disarmament and the Ethiopian presence in the country.

somalia 88 (photo credit: )
somalia 88
(photo credit: )
Hundreds of furious protesters crowded the streets of Mogadishu, burning tires, smashing car windows and shouting that they will not give up their guns despite the government's call for total disarmament. At least two people were killed, including a 13-year-old boy, hospital officials said. The violence on Saturday exposed deep unrest in a city that is seeing its first legitimate governing force in more than a decade. Somali troops, backed by powerful Ethiopian soldiers and weapons, drove out a radical Islamic group last week that had been in control for six months. "We are protesting against the disarmament and the Ethiopian presence in the country. We cannot accept disarmament under occupation," Haeyle Abdulle Hussein, 23, told The Associated Press. "We will wage a holy war instead." It was not immediately clear what prompted the deadly violence or who was responsible. A 13-year-old boy was killed by gunfire and at least 17 people suffered bullet wounds, according to Dr. Dahir Mohamud of the city's Medina Hospital. An Ethiopian soldier also was killed when his hand grenade accidentally went off, according to a nurse at the hospital who did not want her name published for fear of reprisals. Many in predominantly Muslim Somalia resent the presence of troops from Ethiopia, a largely Christian country. The countries have fought two brutal wars, the last in 1977. Shopkeepers closed their businesses and public buses stopped running along Mogadishu's crumbling streets as gunfire crackled all day Saturday. Women in flowing Somali dresses and veils shouted "Down with Ethiopia!" as they marched through this ruined seaside town. The government announced earlier in the day that it was postponing plans to forcibly disarm the city - an operation that was meant to begin Friday but never did. "The prime minister has decided to postpone disarming people by force until an unspecified time," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told The Associated Press. He did not say why Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi had reversed his earlier decision. Dinari also said the protests represented only a small portion of Mogadishu's population, and that the protesters were remnants of the Council of Islamic Courts, which imposed strict sharia law and threatened criminals with public floggings and executions. "We welcome any demonstration without violence but those guys only want to create unrest," Dinari said. One of the protesters, Dahil Abukar, said the disarmament plan was unfair. "We don't want disarmament only in Mogadishu, we want all the people (of Somalia) and all the clans to be disarmed simultaneously," he said. Mogadishu is awash in weapons after more than a decade of civil war. Somalia's last effective central government fell in 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew military dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Islamic fighters in hiding, meanwhile, said they would heed a call from Ayman al-Zawahri, deputy of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, for guerrilla attacks and suicide bombings against Ethiopian troops whose intervention was key to the Islamists' defeat. "I am committed to die for the sake of my religion and the al-Qaida deputy's speech only encourages me to go ahead with my holy war," 18-year-old Sahal Abdi in Mogadishu told The Associated Press. In a message aired Friday on a Web site frequently used by militants, al-Zawahri urged the Islamic movement's fighters and other Muslims to attack the troops of Christian-dominated Ethiopia, which he called a "crusader" invasion force. "Launch ambushes, land mines, raids and suicidal combats until you consume them as the lions and eat their prey," al-Zawahri said. Three al-Qaida suspects wanted in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa are believed to be leaders of the Islamic movement in Somalia. The movement's leaders deny having any links to the terror network. On Friday, Somali government troops and Ethiopians prepared a major assault on the stronghold of the Islamic movement militiamen at Ras Kamboni, and US warships patrolled off the Somali coast to prevent militiamen from escaping by sea. Somalia's interior minister, Hussein Aideed, had no specific details on the mission Saturday, but said Somali and Ethiopian forces were in the process of "clearing the region" at Ras Kamboni, at the southernmost tip of the country. Ethiopian soldiers, tanks and warplanes intervened in Somalia on Dec. 24 to defeat the Islamic movement, which threatened to overthrow the internationally recognized government. At the time, the government controlled only the western town of Baidoa. But Ethiopia's government wants to pull out in a few weeks, saying its forces cannot be peacekeepers. Somalia is trying to train its own military and police while the plan for an international force is put in place, but many fear a power vacuum. A meeting of US, European Union, African and Arab diplomats ended in Kenya on Friday with a US pledge to provide US$40 million to Somalia in political, humanitarian and peacekeeping assistance, and a plan to ask more African nations to send troops to help stabilize the country. The EU said it would help pay for a peacekeeping force envisioned at 8,000 soldiers.