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Somali President Denies Rising Tension, Foreign Troops


Somalia's president is eager to play down fears of a surge in fighting, a day after U.N. aid workers were evacuated from parts of the country amid threats by militia leaders. He is also denying the presence of heavily-armed Ethiopian troops in the country.

Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed blames extremists within his country for stoking fears of renewed violence after a religious leader in Mogadishu issued a threat against foreign aid workers.

The threat led to the evacuation of 14 U.N. aid workers from Jowhar, the provisional capital of Somalia's fledgling government, about 90 kilometers north of Mogadishu.

The president also denied reports by the French news agency (AFP) that Ethiopian militiamen had been deployed this week in Jowhar. The alleged deployment, which VOA could not independently confirm, sparked fears that this war-weary Horn of Africa nation was nearing the brink of yet more violence.

It is just propaganda by extremist groups to maintain instability in the country, says presidential spokesman Yusuf Bari Bari. The extremists and their militias oppose the legitimate government of Somalia and will do anything to see that it does not succeed, he says.

"It is absolutely unbelievable to understand or imagine direct or indirect support to the extremism," said Bari Bari. "It is not the interest of the Somali people. The transitional federal government of Somalia has popular and political legitimacy throughout the country. So they are feeling quite sure that the overwhelming majority of the Somali people are with their government. They have now decided to block the government in this moment before maybe it is too late for them."

There is a growing rift in Somalia's government centers on the location of the country's seat of power: Jowhar or Mogadishu the country's official capital. The president and prime minister want to remain in Jowhar, but the influential parliamentary speaker and several powerful warlords want the new government to operate from Mogadishu.

But Mogadishu is still not safe enough to, says Mr. Bari Bari says

"It is absolutely very clear to everybody that Mogadishu is the capital of the country," he said. "It's going to remain the capital of the country, and the government is doing all in its capacity to establish a better environment in Mogadishu."

Somalia has been without a functioning government since 1991. Last year, the transitional government was formed in Kenya.

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