Somalia government to declare martial law

Somalia's parliament will declare martial law on Saturday for a period of three months, the country's prime minister said after government troops took control of the capital Mogadishu from Islamic militants.
Somalia'sparliament will declare martial law on Saturday for a period of three months, the country's prime minister said after government troops took control ofthecapital Mogadishu from Islamic militants.
Transitional federal government soldiers ride on their truck in Bur Haqaba, 60 kilometres south of Baidoa, Somalia, on Thursday. ((Guy Calaf/Associated Press))

"This country has experienced anarchy and in order to restore security we need a strong hand, especially with freelance militias," Ali Mohamed Gedi told reporters Thursdayin Mundul Sharey, his home village, some 40 kilometres southwest of Mogadishu.

Gedi made the commentsduring his first visit to his village since 2002 and came hours after troops loyal to the interim government of Somalia, backed by members of the Ethiopian military, entered the outskirts of Mogadishu on Thursday in the wake of fleeing Islamic militants.

The UN-backed transitional government Thursday approved the immediate resumption of humanitarian flights.

"Their airspace has been declared open, which means that we and others can fly in," said Stephanie Bunker, spokeswoman for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, known as OCHA.

"The UN will first do a security assessment of the situation, which is standard procedure," she said. "Once we've done that— and we don't yet know when that will be— we will resume our flights if it's safe enough to do so."

Without a fight

The Council of Islamic Courts, the Islamic insurgentswho had controlled the city since June and planned to form a government based on the Qu'ran, withdrew from the city without a fight in anticipation of the troops' arrival.

Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, the insurgency's executive leader, said in an interview with Al-Jazeera television that he ordered his forces out of Mogadishu to avoid bloodshed in the capital.

"That is not the end," warned Omar Idris, an official with the Council of Islamic Courts. "I think it's very early to say that Islamic Court forces [were] defeated."

Convoys of Islamic fighters have been seen driving south toward the port city of Kismayo, their last stronghold.

Witnesses say Mogadishu descended into chaos as soon as the Islamic militia members withdrew, with widespread looting and gunshots on the streets.

In recent days, hospitals and other medical facilities in southern and central Somalia have admitted more than 800 wounded people, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Trying to keep the volatilesituation contained, the international community has called on predominantly Christian Ethiopia to withdraw its forces from Somalia, a mainly Sunni Muslim neighbour with which it has traditionally had hostile relations.

Islamic movement leaders had called on foreign Muslims to travel to Somalia to join their "holy war" against the troops from Ethiopia.

Scores of Muslims from Eritrea were among those who answered the call.

A confidential United Nations briefing paper that surfaced in October saidEthiopia, Uganda and Yemen support the interim government, and Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Gulf states support the Islamic Courts movement.

Somalia has not had an effective central government since 1991. The current interim government was established with thehelp of the United Nations two years ago.