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Somalis Demonstrate Against Foreign Peacekeepers


Thousands took to the streets in the Somali capital of Mogadishu Friday to protest against a proposal to bring foreign peacekeepers into the volatile country.

The demonstrators were mostly members of civil society and religious groups, with officials of the Islamic courts invited to address the crowd.

Ali Musa Abdi is a reporter with the French news agency. On the line from Mogadishu, he tells VOA that some demonstrators took the opportunity to vent at the West as well as the Somali transitional government, which is based in the town of Baidoa.

"People were carrying placards and some of them were saying, 'go to hell with your democracy' and 'we don't want peacekeepers from Ethiopia' [and] 'we don't want HIV-AIDS to be bought into our country.' They also criticized generally the West for mismanaging the Somali business [situation] by accusing George Bush as a man who is a war criminal," he said.

The Somali parliament Wednesday approved a proposal by the regional body Inter-Governmental Authority on Development to send a peacekeeping force into Somalia to stem recent unrest there.

In an interview while the parliament's debate was taking place Wednesday, journalist Abdi told VOA that the Islamic Courts group is, in his words, "very critical to the deployment of foreign troops and they said they will not have any sort of negotiations or political discussions if the foreign troops are approved."

In recent months, the Somali capital Mogadishu has been rocked by fierce fighting between militias loyal to the Islamic Courts group and a group of warlords and militias calling themselves the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism.

More than 300 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during the conflict. Recently, the Islamic courts took control of Mogadishu and the northern town of Jowhar, which at one time was the temporary location of the transitional Somali government.

Media reports early Friday indicated that a senior official with the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland claimed that the Islamic courts militia is planning to expand into Puntland. Journalist Abdi says the Islamic courts deny such a plan.

"They never specifically said an invasion of Puntland or any other [part of Somalia]," he added. "This was a rumor."

Ever since civil war broke out in 1991, militias loyal to clan and sub-clan-based factions have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order or even basic services to the population.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago following the peace process.

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