Interim Somali parliament authorizes government to declare martial law

Sunday, January 14, 2007
Former police officers loyal to Somalia's transitional government patroled a Mogadishu street Saturday. Somali lawmakers voted Saturday to authorize the government to declare martial law, the deputy parliament speaker said, as the country's internationally recognized leaders struggle to assert their authority after battling an Islamic movement that had controlled much of southern Somalia. (MOHAMED SHEIKH NOR ~ Associated Press)

MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Somalia's acting parliament authorized martial law Saturday as the fledgling government struggles to assert authority over a country that has known little but clan warfare and chaos for 15 years.

The vote will allow the U.N.-backed government to impose martial law for up to three months in this Horn of Africa nation of 7 million people, deputy parliament speaker Osman Ilmi Boqore said during a legislative session broadcast live on a state-owned radio station.

The vote came as government troops and allied Ethiopian soldiers began house to house searches for weapons near Mogadishu's main airport.

A few hours later, Ethiopian jets reportedly bombed at least one village in the south, killing three people, a traditional elder reported.

Abdi Rashid Sheikh Ahmed said by phone from Af Madow that residents of the village of Bankajiiro came to his town with the bodies of three relatives they said died in the airstrike.

Lawmaker Abdulrashid Hidig, speaking from the port town of Kismayo, and government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said they had heard reports of airstrikes but did not have any details.

Ethiopian forces, which helped Somali government troops defeat an Islamic militia that had controlled much of southern Somalia since summer, do not speak to journalists in Mogadishu.

Boqore said 154 legislators voted in favor of letting the government impose martial law. He said two lawmakers voted against the motion.

The remainder of Somalia's 275 lawmakers were not present at the session in Baidoa, a western town that had been the two-year-old government's stronghold until the Islamic militia was routed in an offensive that began Dec. 24.

Dinari, the government spokesman, told AP he did not know when President Abdullahi Yusuf would sign a decree to impose martial law.

Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama has said the measure was needed because of widespread insecurity in the country, which has been without an effective government since clan warlords toppled a dictator in 1991 and then turned on each other.

Opposing lawmakers said too many Somalis are armed to impose strict order right now.

In unrest Friday, at least eight people were killed and six wounded when rival clan militias fought over pasture and water for their livestock in an area 90 miles northwest of Mogadishu, elders and residents said by telephone.

The clash erupted as Ethiopian-backed government forces captured Ras Kamboni at the southern tip of Somalia, the last stronghold of the Islamic movement. Defense Minister Barre "Hirale" Aden Shire said more fighting was likely as troops pursued militiamen in nearby forests.

As the five-day battle at Ras Kamboni wrapped up, the president secured a promise from warlords to enlist their fighters in the government army.

Yusuf needs to establish enough calm to allow international peacekeepers to deploy in Somalia to protect his government until it can establish an effective police force and army.

He must heal clan divisions that have spoiled 13 previous attempts to form an effective government since 1991. And he will have to deal with the remnants of the Islamic movement as well as resentment among mostly Muslim Somalis at the presence of troops from Ethiopia, which has a large Christian population.

Associated Press writers Mohamed Sheikh Nor and Salad Duhul in Mogadishu and Celean Jacobson in Johannesburg, South Africa, contributed to this report.

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