Anti-Ethiopian protests rock Somali capital

MOGADISHU (Reuters) — Ethiopian troops and Somali protesters exchanged fire in Mogadishu on Saturday killing three people, witnesses said, as hundreds of Somalis demonstrated against the foreign forces and a government disarmament drive.

The protesters hurled stones and burnt tyres, wreathing streets in smoke and reviving memories of the chaos that had largely stopped during six months of strict Islamist rule before the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) was ousted last week.

“The Ethiopians opened fire and shot dead a young boy and a lady, they also killed another person,” a witness said. Other witnesses agreed.

“The [government] and Ethiopian troops invaded our country and they have shot my son for no good reason,” Omar Halane, the father of the boy, said.

A government source said one person had died and that police had opened fire in Tarbuunka Square, where the Islamists had held regular anti-Ethiopian demonstrations when they controlled the volatile capital.

“Protesters shot at policemen, the police returned fire killing one man,” the source said. “I don’t know how many people have been wounded.” In the latest show of discontent with the forces that ousted the Islamists, hundreds of Somalis marched through the capital chanting “Down with Ethiopia”.

Ethiopian soldiers fired in the air to disperse crowds and government troops armed with AK-47s patrolled the streets.

Somalia’s interim government wants to install itself in Mogadishu, one of the world’s most dangerous cities, after ousting the Islamists with the help of Ethiopian troops, tanks and warplanes.

Within hours of the Islamists fleeing, fighters loyal to warlords reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to rob and terrorise civilians.

Muse Sudi Yalahow, a warlord dislodged by the Islamists in the June battle for Mogadishu, came back to the capital on Saturday but declined to speak to reporters.

Residents fear Mogadishu could slide back into the anarchy and clan violence that has gripped the city since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.

“We are against the Ethiopian troops’ occupation. We don’t want them, they should leave,” 20-year-old protester Ahmed Mohammad told Reuters. “They are harassing us in our own country. The government is imposing the Ethiopians on us.”

A hospital source, speaking before the shooting incident, said at least five civilians were hurt.

The interim government had given Mogadishu residents until last Thursday to hand in their weapons or be disarmed by force.

Government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari told local radio on Saturday the disarmament programme had been postponed. Few weapons have been handed in as locals wait to see if the government can impose the relative stability experienced under the SICC.

President Abdullahi Yusuf was due to meet Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who says his troops will leave the Horn of Africa country within two weeks, government officials said.

The SICC had controlled much of southern Somalia after ousting warlords from Mogadishu last June, but have been forced into hiding after being routed from their strongholds in two weeks of open warfare.

They have vowed to fight on, melting into the hills in the remote south where Ethiopian and government forces are hunting hundreds of their fighters.

Kenya has sent troops to seal its frontier. A local official said 23 suspected Islamist fighters, including foreigners, had been arrested.

An assistant immigration minister told Reuters five Somali members of parliament had been detained in Nairobi for questioning on suspicion of helping the Islamists.

Many Somalis view Ethiopia, the region’s traditionally Christian military giant across their border, as a rival.

Several times between 1992 and 1998, Addis Ababa sent troops to Somalia to strike at Islamist groups, fearing they could stir trouble in its ethnic Somali regions.

Western and African diplomats called on Friday for the urgent deployment of peacekeepers to Somalia, hours after Al Qaeda’s deputy leader called on Somali Islamists to launch an Iraq-style insurgency against Ethiopian forces.

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