Somalis Stage Anti-Ethiopian Protests

Hundreds of angry Somalis took to the streets of Mogadishu on January 6 to protest against the presence of Ethiopian troops who had helped the government drive out Islamic Courts fighters. Holding sticks and stones and shouting “Down with Ethiopia”, crowds of people marched through central Mogadishu, burned tyres and threw stones near stalls selling…

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Hundreds of angry Somalis took to the streets of Mogadishu on January 6 to protest against the presence of Ethiopian troops who had helped the government drive out Islamic Courts fighters. Holding sticks and stones and shouting “Down with Ethiopia”, crowds of people marched through central Mogadishu, burned tyres and threw stones near stalls selling jars of fuel, reports said.

“There is a big demonstration, people are burning tyres, the whole of K4 area has been engulfed by smoke,” one resident, who declined to be named, reportedly said, referring to the central area.

The Ethiopian-backed interim government of Somalia, which is seeking to install itself in Mogadishu, gave Mogadishu residents three days till January 11 to hand in their weapons or be disarmed by force. Despite the deadline, few weapons have been handed in.

The Islamic Courts fighters took control of much of southern Somalia in June but have now been forced into hiding after being routed from their strongholds by Ethiopian military defending Somalia’s interim government in two weeks of full-scale warfare.

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

The protests come just days after an ambush killed at least one Ethiopian soldier in south Somalia and a hand grenade was thrown at Ethiopian troops in Mogadishu.

Any Ethiopian presence in Somalia was sure to provoke a response from the general population. Somalis traditionally view the military giant across their border as a rival.

Several times, from 1992 to 1998, Christian Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia to attack Islamic movements.

The United States has ruled out sending troops to chaos-marred Somalia, but at least for the time being. “Situations change but I do not see it now, and there’s nothing that I’ve heard that implies that at all,” Gen. William Ward, deputy commander of US European Command, who is seen by some as a contender to lead the Pentagon’s Africa operations, told reporters in Washington.

Experts fear the interim government – already facing worsening security in Mogadishu – will flounder without its protection. The government wants a foreign peacekeeping force, approved by the United Nations before the war, to be deployed.

Within hours of the Courts fighters leaving Mogadishu, militiamen loyal to US-backed warlords ousted in June reappeared at checkpoints in the city where they used to rob and terrorise civilians. Their return showed how easily Mogadishu could slide back into anarchy after six months of relative stability and calm under the Courts.