Hundreds of Somalis Rally for Prime Minister

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Hundreds gathered outside the home of Somalia's prime minister on Monday to show their support for the embattled leader, who barely survived a no-confidence vote in parliament over the weekend.

The demonstrators carried signs and chanted the name of Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Gedi, who kept his job Sunday even though only 88 lawmakers voted to keep him and 126 voted to remove him. The no-confidence motion needed 139 votes against him to pass.

"We have seen what happens when we have no government," said Baidoa resident Safiya Roobaa, who was among about 200 people at Monday's rally. "We need a government, and a bad government is better than none."

CountryWatch: Somalia

The administration was formed two years ago with the support of the United Nations to help Somalia emerge from more than a decade of anarchy, but it has no power outside its base in Baidoa, 150 miles from the capital, Mogadishu.

An Islamic militia, meanwhile, has seized the capital and much of southern Somalia, imposing strict religious courts and raising fears of an emerging Taliban-style regime. The United States accuses the group of harboring Al Qaeda leaders responsible for deadly bombings at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

The Islamic group is acting increasingly like Somalia's government. Sheikh Mohamud Siyad Inda Adde, the group's security chairman, said Monday that more than 275 militiamen with 50 pickups mounted with machine-guns and anti-aircraft guns have been sent to the central Somalia regions of Galgaduud and Mudug fight Somali pirates based there.

"They will also help people in those areas set up their own Islamic courts and local administrations," Inda Adde told The Associated Press.

Somalia has had no coast guard or navy since 1991, when warlords ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. Piracy rose sharply last year, with 35 attacks reported, compared to two in 2004, according to the International Maritime Bureau. The bandits target both passenger and cargo vessels for ransom or loot.

Two men suspected of spying for Ethiopia, which supports the transitional government, were in the custody of the Islamic group in Mogadishu and being investigated, said Sheikh Moalin Arafat, a commander of one of the group's courts.

The United States and other Western powers have cautioned outsiders against meddling in Somalia, which has no single ruling authority and can be manipulated by anyone with money and guns. But there is little sign the warning has been heeded.

Gedi has accused Egypt, Libya, Iran and Eritrea of providing weapons to Islamic militants. The militants, meanwhile, say Ethiopia — Somalia's longtime enemy — has sent troops here to support the fragile government.

On Sunday, the first commercial flight departed from Mogadishu International Airport in more than a decade, demonstrating how the militants have pacified the once-anarchic capital.

Local airlines had been operating from private airstrips outside the capital.

Now, Islamic militiamen are guarding the airport for commercial passengers, said Sheik Muqtar Robow, deputy defense chief for the Islamic group.

The Jubba Airways plane was headed to the United Arab Emirates, said Abdurahman Hassan Mohamud Mufo, a spokesman for the airline.