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Ethiopian soldiers departing Somalia

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Associated Press

Hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers were pulling out of the Somali capital Friday, witnesses said, amid fears that the troops’ departure would allow Islamic insurgents to take control of more of the lawless country.

Ethiopia has been propping up Somalia’s weak government for two years but had vowed to leave by the end of 2008. Officials declined to give a date, saying only that the thousands of troops would be pulled out in stages.

It was not immediately clear how many were leaving Friday, but residents said they saw hundreds on the move.

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The Ethiopians were called on in 2006 to defend the United Nations-backed transitional government and rout Islamic militants who had taken over much of the country. The Islamists were driven from power, but they quickly regrouped and launched an insurgency.

Abdullahi Yusuf resigned as president on Monday, saying he had lost control of the country to Islamic insurgents and could no longer fulfill his duties after four years in office.

Many Somalis have seen the Ethiopians as occupiers, and the insurgents have used their presence to gain recruits -- even as the militants’ strict form of Islam terrified people into submission.

Mogadishu resident Salado Abdi Salan said the departing troops “looked happy, and some of them waved to the children as they passed.”

For two decades, Somalia has been beset by anarchy, violence and an insurgency that has killed thousands of civilians and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing.

The most powerful insurgent group, Shabab, has taken control of vast amounts of new territory in recent months. Washington accuses Shabab of harboring terrorists who blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Some of the insurgency’s senior figures are on the U.S. State Department’s list of wanted terrorists.

Yusuf’s resignation could usher in more chaos as Islamic militants scramble and fight among themselves for power. The government controls only pockets of Mogadishu and Baidoa, the seat of parliament.


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