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Somali Prime Minister Says Government Troops in Mogadishu


Somalia's prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, says the government's Ethiopian-backed troops have reached entry points into the capital, Mogadishu, after Islamists abandoned the city. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, tensions between rival clans in the capital are escalating, as they compete to fill the power vacuum left by the Islamists.

Islamist fighters - many of whom had been called back into the capital in recent days to defend the city from advancing troops - disappeared from the streets of Mogadishu early Thursday.

Mogadishu-based journalist Omar Faruk Osman tells VOA that fighters took off their uniforms and walked away from checkpoints and police stations, leaving the city with no security.

"The Islamic courts were taking that [security] responsibility. But now, no one is going to take that responsibility," he said. "The militias are integrating back to their clans and sub-clans. There is a high level of anarchy and widespread insecurity - robbery, killings."

Residents in southern Mogadishu say they saw convoys of trucks heading south toward the Islamist-held port town, Kismayo.

The Islamists withdrew from Mogadishu as Ethiopian-backed Somali government troops came within striking distance of the capital from the north and west.

Islamist leaders have told reporters their withdrawal from Mogadishu was a deliberate tactical retreat to avoid civilian deaths.

Earlier this week, one of the top leaders of the Islamist movement, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, said his group's military struggle against Ethiopia had just begun, and promised the fight would go on for a long time.

Ethiopia declared war on the Islamists last week, after the Islamists declared a holy war against Ethiopia.

But Somali analysts say the Islamist movement, which seized power in Mogadishu nearly seven months ago and expanded rapidly throughout much of southern Somalia, now appears to have lost much of its momentum and power to reach its goal of unifying the country under a strict form of Islam.

Analysts say the Islamists tried to use Muslim unity to curb the influence of Somalia's volatile clan system, which has prevented Somalia from having a functioning government for more than 15 years.

Clan rivalries have also kept Somalia's two-year-old U.N.-recognized interim government weak and unable to challenge the Islamists without Ethiopian assistance.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi defends his country's mission, saying Ethiopia is not there to reconstruct Somalia, but "to remove the threat of the Islamic Courts militia on Somalia and Ethiopia."

Earlier this year, the then-powerful Islamists managed to secure the support of rival Abgal and Habr Gadir clans in Mogadishu, who have fought viciously for control of the capital since 1991.

But with the Islamist movement in tatters, journalist Omar Faruk Osman says old clan rivalries are flaring once again in Mogadishu. He says clan militiamen exchanged gunfire on Thursday, fighting for weapons and ammunition left behind by the Islamists.

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