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Last Updated: Friday, 21 July 2006, 14:25 GMT 15:25 UK
Somali Islamist in rallying call
Islamist militia in Somalia
The Islamists control much of southern Somalia
A leader of Somalia's Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) has called on the population to defend Somalia against troops from neighbouring Ethiopia.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed said anyone who supported Ethiopia would be regarded as a traitor.

Ethiopia has denied reports that its forces have entered Somalia and taken up positions in Baidoa, the base of the weak interim government.

But a BBC reporter has seen Ethiopian troops patrolling the town of Baidoa.

On Wednesday, Islamist militia were reported to have advanced to within 60km of Baidoa but have denied planning to attack the town

Facts and figures about life in Somalia

Ethiopia, which is strongly opposed to the Islamists, has repeated warned that it will send its army into Somalia if the interim government is attacked.

"Anybody who sides with Ethiopia will be considered a traitor," Reuters news agency quotes Mr Ahmed as saying.

"The Somali people have to defend themselves and [we] are ready to spearhead that defence," he told a local radio station according to AFP news agency.

The militiamen are loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) movement, which last month took control of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

BBC African analyst Martin Plaut says the Ethiopian action puts the future of the transitional government in question.

Far from buttressing the administration, he says it may be the final blow to its credibility.

Many MPs will not wish to serve in what will be seen as a puppet government, and observers believe they may leave Baidoa, he says.

Ethiopia has been a long-term ally of President Abdullahi Yusuf and in the 1990s helped him defeat an Islamist militia led by one of the UIC's leaders, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys.

A UN report earlier this year said that Mr Aweys had been getting significant military aid from Ethiopia's rival, Eritrea - a claim Eritrea has denied.


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