By Guled Mohamed and Mohamed Ali Bile
Saturday, July 22, 2006; A11
MOGADISHU, Somalia, July 21 -- Islamic leaders on Friday told Somalis to prepare for war against Ethiopia, while witnesses reported that Ethiopian troops were moving closer to Mogadishu, the capital.
"Somalia is under attack, and Somalis must defend their country," said Sharif Ahmed, a senior Islamic leader. "Anybody who sides with Ethiopia will be considered a traitor."
The call came as thousands took to the streets of Mogadishu to rally around their new Muslim rulers and protest the incursion by Ethiopian troops to protect Somalia's interim government from Islamic forces.
In a procession of pickup trucks, cars and motorcycles, residents toured the battle-scarred city, which the Islamic militia took from U.S.-backed secular warlords last month. Onlookers cheered and clapped as rally organizers led the convoy through areas previously held by warlords.
The rapid rise of the Islamic militia has threatened the authority of the government formed in 2004 to steer the country of 10 million from anarchy to peace. Western countries support Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf in principle but acknowledge that his government has little political or military power.
Somalis said Ethiopian soldiers had moved beyond the fragile government's provincial base in Baidoa, 150 miles northwest of the capital, to the towns of Buur Hakaba and Baledogle.
A spokesman for the Ethiopian government said that it had accepted a request from Somalia's government to come to its aid in case the Islamic militia attacked Baidoa but that it had not yet sent troops across the border. The Somali government said people were confused because its forces were wearing uniforms given to them by Ethiopia.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer cautioned Ethiopia on Friday against becoming embroiled in Somalia, although she could not confirm reports that Ethiopian troops had entered the country.
Salad Ali Jelle, Somalia's deputy information minister, said as many as 3,000 government troops were patrolling Baidoa to thwart any attack by the Islamic militia, but he denied that they were Ethiopian.
But witnesses said hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers were in Baidoa, protecting government installations that included the parliament, the presidential palace and the airport.