By Sahal Abdulle and Guled Mohamed
MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalis protested in Mogadishu on Saturday against Ethiopian troops backing the interim government, hurling stones, burning tyres and reviving memories of the chaos that largely stopped during six months of strict sharia rule by Islamists. In the latest show of discontent with the forces that drove the Islamists out, some protesters brandished sticks and set fires that wreathed the streets in smoke, witnesses said.
One resident said the protesters were also angry about a disarmament drive by the interim government, which wants to install itself in one of the world's most dangerous cities.
Within hours of the Islamists leaving Mogadishu last week, militiamen loyal to warlords reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to rob and terrorise civilians.
Their return showed how easily Mogadishu could slide back into the anarchy and clan violence known since the 1991 ouster of a dictator.
Ethiopian soldiers fired in the air to disperse crowds who chanted "Down with Ethiopia" as hundreds of Somalis marched through Mogadishu on Saturday. Government troops armed with AK-47s patrolled the streets.
"We are against the Ethiopian troops' occupation. We don't want them, they should leave," 20-year-old protester Ahmed Mohamed told Reuters. "They are harassing us in our own country. The government is imposing the Ethiopians on us."
A hospital source said at least five civilians were hurt.
In a separate incident on Saturday, the hospital source added, five government soldiers were injured in an explosion at Mogadishu seaport. No other details were immediately available.
A Reuters journalist was detained briefly by Ethiopian troops who erased pictures he had taken of the protesters.
Women waved the Koran while witnesses said children were among the demonstrators.
The interim government, which routed the Somalia Islamic Courts Council (SICC) last week with the help of Ethiopian tanks, troops and warplanes, gave Mogadishu residents until last Thursday to hand in their weapons or be disarmed by force.
But locals said they were waiting to see if the government could impose the relative stability they had experienced under the Courts.
The Ethiopian presence in Somalia was sure to provoke a response from residents, who view the Horn of Africa's Christian-led military giant across their border as a rival.
Several times between 1992 and 1998, Addis Ababa sent troops to Somalia to strike at radical Islamic groups, fearing they could stir trouble in its ethnic Somali regions.
Earlier this week an ambush killed at least one Ethiopian soldier in south Somalia and a hand grenade was thrown at Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu. On Thursday, militiamen attacked an oil lorry on the northern outskirts of Mogadishu, wounding three people.
The Islamists had controlled much of southern Somalia but have been forced into hiding after being routed from their strongholds in two weeks of war. They have vowed to fight on, melting into the hills in Somalia's remote south where Ethiopian and government forces are hunting hundreds of their fighters. Kenya has sent troops to seal its frontier, blocking entry to Somali refugees fleeing the conflict.
Kenyan media 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. 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.
The call to arms, posted on a Web site used by militant Islamists, is likely to reinforce Washington's belief the SICC is linked to or even run by al Qaeda, a charge it denies.
Ethiopia has said it troops will leave within two weeks, but analysts fear the interim government will flounder without its protection.
(Additional reporting by Wangui Kanina)
Saturday, January 6, 2007
By Sahal Abdulle and Guled Mohamed