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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2007

Protesters vow to keep weapons

January 7, 2007

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— Hundreds of furious protesters crowded the streets Saturday, burning tires and smashing car windows while denouncing the presence of Ethiopian forces and shouting defiance at the interim Somali government's call for disarming Mogadishu.

At least two people died in the violence, which exposed discontent in a city seeing its first legitimate governing force in years. Soldiers loyal to the U.N.-backed government and Ethiopia's military drove out a radical Islamic group last week that had been in control 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, said. "We will wage a holy war instead."

It was not immediately clear what prompted the bloodshed or who was responsible. A 13-year-old boy was killed by gunfire and at least 17 people suffered bullet wounds, said Dr. Dahir Mohamud, a physician at Medina Hospital.

An Ethiopian soldier died when his hand grenade accidentally exploded, according to a nurse at the hospital.

Many in predominantly Muslim Somalia resent having troops from neighboring Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population. 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. 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 had been set to begin Friday but didn't.

"The prime minister has decided to postpone disarming people by force until an unspecified time," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.

Dinari also said the protesters represented only a small portion of Mogadishu's population and described them as remnants of the Council of Islamic Courts, which imposed strict Quranic law and threatened criminals with public floggings and executions.

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