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Somalis protest foreign troops

Published June 17, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia - More than 10,000 Somalis demonstrated Friday, angry at the possibility the weak transitional government would call in foreign troops to stop the advance of a militia that says it will bring peace and unity through Islamic rule.

Protesters were particularly angered by the possibility troops from Ethiopia, Somalia's historical rival and an ally of the transitional president, might intervene amid signs of a deepening divide between the internationally backed government and the new rulers of Mogadishu.

"No Ethiopia, no Ethiopian government! We don't want to be a colony!" the protesters shouted in the second demonstration in as many days against the transitional parliament's vote in favor of a plan to deploy Ugandan and Sudanese peacekeepers to bolster the government.

Women in robes and veils made up a third of the demonstration, segregated from the men.

A leader of the Islamic Courts Union - whose militia has swept across southern Somalia installing clan-based, but religiously oriented municipal administrations - told reporters his group rejected the idea of peacekeepers.

"There is no reason for foreign troops to come into our country," said Sheik Abdulkadir Ali Omar, deputy chairman of the courts union.

Earlier, at the rally, his remarks were more volatile.

"Now the members of parliament have only two options: to reverse their decision or to join Somalia's enemy!" Omar shouted.

The Islamic union's only competition for control of southern Somalia is a transitional government led by President Abdullahi Yusuf. His government is supported by Somalia's neighbors, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union. Opposing it could mean isolation and sanctions for any administration the Islamic forces try to build.

The transitional government has watched from the sidelines as the Islamic forces overcame a coalition of secular warlords to take control of southern Somalia.

The Islamic group's consolidation of power in southern Somalia is unmatched since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. Ethiopia has intervened in Somalia in the past to prevent Islamic extremists from taking power. It also was a power broker in forming the transitional government in 2002: Yusuf was its preferred candidate for president.

[Last modified June 17, 2006, 06:22:30]

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