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In Somalia, demonstrations target radical Islamic militia

Fears of regional conflict grow

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Fears of regional conflict soared as angry demonstrations against Somalia's radical Islamic militia grew into deadly violence yesterday 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, said in a telephone interview 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 Qaeda bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden has portrayed Somalia as a battleground in his war on the United States.

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 Qaeda 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 yesterday that foreign militants were helping his fighters.

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

Turki, who is rarely seen in public, is on US and UN lists of suspected terrorists for having alleged ties to Al Qaeda.

In an interview yesterday, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said ``terrorists" dominate the Islamic group.

Gedi, speaking in neighboring Kenya, called on the United Nations 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 UN Security Council was expected to meet yesterday 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.

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