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Somali Government Pushes for 90-Day Martial Law


Cabinet leaders in Somalia's Ethiopian-backed interim government say they will push for a quick parliamentary approval to implement martial law for 90 days in the capital Mogadishu. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu is in Mogadishu and reports the city is bristling with tension and armed men in the wake of the Islamists' sudden departure.

Several members of Somalia's transitional parliament and Cabinet officials left Mogadishu for Baidoa 250 kilometers away, where the internationally recognized-but-weak interim government has been headquartered for more than a year.

Last week, Islamist forces who had controlled the capital for nearly seven months abandoned the city before Somali government troops and their militarily superior Ethiopian allies could reach the capital.

The sudden collapse of the once-powerful Islamist movement, which Ethiopia and the United States accused of being led by extremists, left Mogadishu and other former Islamist-held in the country with little or no security.

Widespread looting of Islamist weapon depots was reported in Mogadishu and in the key southern port town Kismayo - two major cities already awash in arms.

Speaking to reporters in Mogadishu, interim Deputy Prime Minister Hussein Aideed says President Abdullahi Yusuf will call an emergency parliamentary session starting Saturday to push for a vote, authorizing the government to confiscate weapons in the capital.

"The Cabinet approved last week martial law for 90 days," he said. "We need parliament [to] approve. So, all of us, we are going back. Parliament will debate. If we succeed to get the votes, then I will come back to implement the martial law to take the weapons out of the hands of the civilians."

On Monday, Interim Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi demanded all militias and residents to disarm in three days time or face disarmament by force.

Gedi's fragile, clan-based government needs to establish security quickly to install itself in the capital and restore a central government in Somalia for the first time since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's regime in 1991.

But Mogadishu officials and witnesses report only a few weapons have been turned in voluntarily.

With insufficient troops and firepower to disarm one of the world's most dangerous cities by force, the government may be once again turning to its neighbor and main supporter, Ethiopia, for assistance.

VOA has learned that columns of trucks carrying Ethiopian troops left Baidoa late Tuesday for Mogadishu to reinforce thousands of troops already in the capital.

Somalis say if Ethiopians are used to disarm them, the government may face a violent national backlash even among its supporters, who view Ethiopia not as a friend, but a bitter rival with whom Somalia has fought two major wars since the 1960s.

Many residents also describe the government's order to disarm as unrealistic. They say since government forces have not established security, most people will not give up the weapons they need to protect their families and businesses.

It is not yet clear whether militias belonging to powerful Mogadishu-based factional leaders within the interim government will also have to give up their weapons or be exempt from the order.

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