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Somali President Pleads for Regional Help

Somalia's president has made an urgent appeal for help, saying his government may not be able to hold off Islamist groups seeking control of the country.

President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed spoke in Addis Ababa Monday, at an emergency summit of the East African regional bloc known as IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Mr. Sharif said insurgents are mounting hard attacks against the Somali state. He said his government cannot face the challenge of the attacks with its current military capability.

At the meeting were several regional leaders, including Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and the host, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The summit follows weeks of battles for territory in Mogadishu between Islamist groups and the government, which is backed by a small African Union peacekeeping force.

That force helps the U.N.-backed government keep control of key sites, including the airport, seaport and presidential palace. But Islamist groups al-Shabab and Hizbul Islam control much of the capital and most of southern Somalia. Both groups have moved to impose a harsh form of Islamic law in the areas they rule, banning music and amputating the limbs of alleged thieves. Al-Shabab has proclaimed its allegiance to al-Qaida.

Somalia has experienced nearly two decades of continuous conflict and chaos since the fall of the last stable government in 1991.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.