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Thousands Protest Reported Foreign Troops in Somalia

Thousands of people have rallied in Somalia to condemn the reported presence of Ethiopian troops in the country.

Islamist leaders called the rallies on Friday in Mogadishu and other cities, to urge holy war (or jihad) against neighboring Ethiopia.

They accuse Ethiopia of sending troops to back the interim government in Somalia that opposes the Islamists. Somali officials and Islamist leaders are scheduled to meet Sunday in Sudan's capital, Khartoum for peace talks.

At the United Nations, Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary-General Kofi Annan said he is aware of media reports about the foreign troops in Somalia. But he declined to confirm the information.

The Associated Press has reported that a leaked U.N. briefing paper estimates there are at least six thousand Ethiopian troops in Somalia. It said Eritrea has sent 2,000 soldiers to support the Islamists.

Ethiopia has acknowledged sending a few hundred military instructors to train Somali government forces.

Eritrea has denied charges that it is arming and supporting the Islamist movement.

Somalia's interim government is under increasing pressure from the Islamists, who have seized control of key areas in the nation.

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