Somalia's beleaguered U.N.-supported government says the country is in danger of being taken over by Islamist militants with ties to al-Qaida.  It has sent out an appeal for neighboring countries to intervene militarily in Somalia within the next 24 hours.  

Speaking to reporters in the capital Mogadishu Saturday, Somali Parliament Speaker Sheik Aden Mohamed Nur "Madobe" made a startling appeal.

The speaker says the government has been weakened by rebel forces and now needs military intervention from Somalia's neighbors - Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Yemen - in the next 24 hours.  

Echoing remarks made by Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in recent days, Madobe says the government is fighting al-Qaida, which has established bases in Somalia and is determined to take over the country.  

Reports say two days of heavy fighting in north Mogadishu between government and pro-government forces and Islamist insurgent groups, led by al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab and its ally Hisbul Islam, have prompted thousands of people to flee from the area.   The neighborhoods currently under siege once provided refuge for residents fleeing violence in other parts of the capital.  Both warring sides are claiming victory, but there has been no independent confirmation.

Late Friday, gunmen kidnapped and killed Mohamed Hussein Adow, a lawmaker close to President Sharif.  He was the third government official to be killed violently in as many days.  On Thursday, the country's security minister, Omar Hashi Aden, died in a suicide bombing at a hotel in Beletweyne near the border with Ethiopia.    

Ethiopia withdrew its troops from Somalia in January after an unpopular two-year military intervention to prop up Somalia's weak secular government.  A moderate Islamist president was elected by an expanded Somali parliament to lead a new unity government made up of Islamists and secular politicians.

But hard-line Islamists have rejected the government as being pro-Western.  Hundreds of foreigners have been seen fighting alongside the rebels in recent months, prompting fears that al-Qaida is providing the support the rebels need to oust the government.

Despite repeated denials from the government in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is believed to have already deployed hundreds of troops back into Somalia in recent weeks to counter the growing military strength of al-Shabab.  Ethiopia is also said to have given training to pro-government militias now fighting on the frontlines.

Meanwhile, the Somali government and the United States charge that Ethiopia's arch enemy in the region, Eritrea, is fanning violence by providing arms and weapons to Somali extremists as part of a continuing proxy war against Ethiopia.

On Friday, Kenya, which suffered two al-Qaida-related terrorist attacks on its soil in 1998 and 2002, indicated that it was willing to consider sending troops to Somalia.  Kenya's Foreign Minister Moses Wetangula said the threat posed by Somali militants was too great to ignore.

"We will not sit back and watch the situation in Somalia deteriorate beyond where it is.  We have a duty - a constitutional duty as a country and as a government - to protect our strategic interests including our security," he said.

Horn of Africa analysts and observers have long warned that the conflict in Somalia had the potential to trigger a wider regional war.