- The Washington Times - Friday, July 28, 2006

BAIDOA, Somalia — A Cabinet member of the government in Baidoa, widely regarded as powerless, was assassinated yesterday as he left a mosque, enraging hundreds of Somalis who rioted in the streets screaming, “We want a government that can restore law and order.”

It was the second shooting of a lawmaker this week and the latest blow to an administration that has watched helplessly as Islamist militants with purported links to al Qaeda took control of the capital and much of southern Somalia.

People began streaming into the streets just hours after a gunman opened fire on Abdallah Isaaq Deerow, the minister for constitutional and federal affairs. Seven persons were arrested in the killing, police said.

Two days earlier, Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed, chairman of the parliamentary committee for constitutional affairs, was shot and wounded.

“If we don’t express our anger, we are afraid the killings may continue. We want to encourage the government to identify the culprits,” said Baidoa resident Shafarah Younis, as nearly 400 people shouted and set fires near the presidential compound.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.

The government was established nearly two years ago with the support of the United Nations but has failed to assert any power outside its base in Baidoa, 155 miles from the capital, Mogadishu. The administration started unraveling this week when 18 key ministers resigned, saying the government has failed to bring peace.

The Islamist militia, meanwhile, has steadily gained power and influence, raising fears of an emerging Taliban-style regime. The United States accuses the group of harboring al Qaeda leaders responsible for deadly 1998 bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

The militia, known as the Supreme Islamic Courts Council, has rallied even more supporters by condemning reports that troops from neighboring Ethiopia have entered the country to protect the fragile government. Ethiopia is Somalia’s traditional enemy, although Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf has asked for its support — a decision that infuriated many Somalis.

Also yesterday, Islamist fighters closed roads around Mogadishu’s airport and chased away onlookers while a plane was unloaded. A similar aircraft delivered goods Wednesday, and officials from the government accused Eritrea of sending arms to the militants on that flight.

Islamist officials and Eritrea both denied the accusation. Eritrea and Ethiopia have been accused of supporting opposite sides in the Somali standoff, using the country as a battleground in their own rivalry.

In addition to the unstable political situation, Somalia is suffering through a devastating drought. Yesterday, the U.N. refugee agency said an estimated 18,000 Somalis have crossed into Kenya since January to flee the turmoil.

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