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Ethiopia Parliament Authorizes Action Against Somali Islamists


Ethiopia's parliament voted Thursday to give Prime Minister Meles Zenawi the authority to take any legal action necessary to combat what the Meles government has described as a "clear and present danger" from Islamist forces in neighboring Somalia. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

Ethiopia's parliament adopted the motion by a 311-99 vote, with 16 members abstaining.

Echoing Prime Minister Meles' speech to parliament last Friday, the resolution said that the legislative body sees "clear and present danger" from Somali Islamists, and suggested that their goal may be to attempt to unite all Somali-speaking people in a "greater Somalia."

The resolution also accused the Islamists of training, sheltering and arming Ethiopian groups opposed to the government, and accepting help from Ethiopia's rival in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea.

The vote authorizes Prime Minister Meles Zenawi to take any legal action to protect Ethiopia from an invasion. But Beyene Petros and other opposition lawmakers in the capital, Addis Ababa, expressed fear that the vote could be perceived by many people as war-mongering.

This amounts to an approval for a declaration of war, which we do not think the situation we are at actually calls for," Petros said.

Since the Somali Islamists took power in much of Somalia in June on a wave of popular support, Christian leaders in neighboring Ethiopia have become increasingly concerned that ethnic Somalis and other Muslims in Ethiopia could destablize the country.

Addis Ababa also fears the radicalization of its Muslim population by the Islamists, some of whom are accused of having deep ties to al-Qaida and other terrorist groups.

Prime Minister Meles has long denied reports that thousands of Ethiopian troops have been sent to Somalia to fight the Islamists, and to prop up the country's two-year-old secular-but-powerless interim government in the town of Baidoa.

But just hours before the vote in parliament Thursday, and for the second time this week, Islamist leaders said that their forces had clashed with Ethiopian troops.

The Islamists have declared a holy war on Ethiopia for allegedly intervening in Somalia, and deny Ethiopian and U.S. accusations that the Islamists are receiving weapons shipments from Eritrea.

Eritrea's suspected involvement in Somalia has triggered concern that the brewing conflict could turn into a proxy war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

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