Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Insurgents seize seat of Somalia's parliament

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) - A hardline Islamic group seized the seat of the Somali parliament and said Tuesday that it will establish sharia law in the city.

Al-Shabab, which is on Washington's list of terror groups, took over Baidoa late Monday, a day after Ethiopian troops who had been propping up the government ended their unpopular, two-year presence. Al-Shabab, which means "The Youth," has been gaining ground as Somalia's Western-backed government crumbles.

"We will establish an Islamic administration for the town, and appeal residents to remain calm," al-Shabab spokesman Sheik Muktar Robow said.

The takeover came as Somalia's parliament meets this week in neighboring Djibouti to elect a new president. It appears unlikely the lawmakers will be able to return to Baidoa, 155 miles (250 kilometers) southwest of the capital.

There was a brief firefight between the Islamists and government-allied militias, who soon fled, witnesses said.

A nurse at the city's main hospital, Ahmed Yarow, said two people were wounded during the clashes.

The arid, impoverished Horn of Africa nation has not had a functioning government since 1991, when clan-based warlords overthrew a socialist dictator. Pirates operate off its lawless coastline and analysts fear the failed state is a harbor for international terrorists.

The African Union has fewer than 3,000 troops in Somalia, even though 8,000 were authorized.

African Union commission chairman Jean Ping said Tuesday the capture of Baidoa was not unexpected.

"It's not with three battalions that we can cover all of Somalia," he said at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.



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