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Somali Clan Leader Hiding After Ethiopian-Backed Government Launches Crackdown

The top leader of the Hawiye clan council of elders in the Somali capital Mogadishu is believed to have gone into hiding, after he accused Somalia's Ethiopian-backed interim government of trying to silence opposition. As VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu reports from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi, a government crackdown on leaders of the most dominant clan in Mogadishu is likely to further fuel public anger against the government and its Ethiopian allies.

VOA sources in Mogadishu say the chairman of the Hawiye clan elder's council, Mohamed Hassan Haad, moved to an undisclosed location, a day after he condemned the arrest of the group's spokesman, Ahmed Dirie.

Local media reports say before he went into hiding, Haad had publicly criticized leaders of Somalia's transitional federal government for arresting Dirie, accusing them of trying to silence opponents through force and intimidation.

On Sunday, the police in Mogadishu raided the home of Ahmed Dirie, arresting him, two of his sons, and another clan elder. The Somali Internet Web site, Garowe Online, reports that government sources told Garowe reporters that the police discovered a cache of weapons and explosives in Dirie's home.

The claim could not be independently verified.

A cabinet minister in the transitional federal government, Ahmed Gagaale, says he does not know why the police targeted Ahmed Dirie. But he says he is certain the arrest was not politically motivated.

"The people that have been arrested, if they are not guilty, they will be released," he said. "Dirie is one of the elders and if there is no evidence against him, he will be released, I assure you of that."

Since the interim government took power nearly a year ago with the military help of neighboring Ethiopia, the dominant Hawiye community in Mogadishu has been divided between those who support the Ethiopia-backed government and Somalia's former Islamic Courts rulers.

Haad and Dirie led a group of Hawiye elders in the council, who have been vocal in their opposition to the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia, prompting some government officials to accuse them of supporting radical Islamists, the core group behind a bloody nine month anti-government, anti-Ethiopian insurgency in the capital.

In an interview with VOA, a member of the Hawiye elders council, Abdullahi Sheik Hassan, says Somalis who oppose Somalia's traditional enemy, Ethiopia, are being automatically judged as being enemies of the government.

"We want a government. We are not refusing a government. But Ethiopians, they are killing our children. They are arresting our people. We cannot support that," he said.

Many Somalis in Mogadishu accuse the Ethiopian army of committing atrocities against civilians, a charge the government in Addis Ababa denies.

But anti-Ethiopian demonstrations in the capital have been growing. On Sunday, hundreds of stone-throwing Somalis, including women and children, staged a mass protest in the same neighborhood in north Mogadishu, where an angry mob dragged the dead body of an Ethiopian soldier through the streets on Thursday.