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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 19:31 GMT
Anxious times for Somali capital
By Mohamed Olad Hassan
BBC News, Mogadishu

Shopkeeper Ahmed Sa'id Ali in Mogadishu holding a gun
I put my gun into a box six months ago, but I picked it up today for my security
Shopkeeper Ahmed Sa'id Ali

Somalis waving flowers and tree branches welcomed Ethiopian-backed forces loyal to Somalia's UN-recognised interim government as they rolled into the capital, Mogadishu early on Friday.

Most residents, who have grown accustomed to six months of calm after 15 years of anarchy, are anxious for any kind of authority to fill the power vacuum the Islamists left after they abandoned the city on Thursday.

The troops are getting an especially warm welcome from the chewers of khat and dealers of the popular mild stimulant leaf; cinema owners and football fans.

They all felt they had lost much of their freedom during the Islamists' strict rule when selling khat and screening of football matches were banned.

But there are still elements in the capital who are fiercely opposed to Ethiopia's role in the government's takeover.

In the north of the city - once headquarters to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) - a group of teenagers stood in the way of the convoy throwing stones and chanting anti-Ethiopian slogans.

The troops then opened fire to scare them away and passed by peacefully.

Mogadishu resident Abdullahi Aden
There is a Somali saying, 'If you can't beat them join them'
Abdullahi Aden
Mogadishu resident

But the incident triggered a full-scale demonstration when more than 2,000 people took to the street burning tyres and throwing stones at cars.

Other people, however, feel they have no option but to join in with the waving crowds.

Twenty-eight-year-old Abdullahi Aden says he supported the Islamists but now he has changed his mind.

"I was supporting them because of two reasons: they restored the peace here and they had the principle of ruling the nation into Islam.

"But now I do not have an option. There is a Somali saying, 'If you can't beat them join them.'"

Brisk business

Despite the thousands of government troops now in the capital, no-one is physically guarding key junctions.

Khat dealers
Chewing khat is a popular pastime in Somalia

However, the militiamen who used to run checkpoints - extorting money from drivers before the Islamists took over - can be seen sipping tea at nearby cafes, accessing whether or not to take up their positions again.

Schools have been closed as normal on Friday, with many children among the welcoming crowds.

Otherwise people have preferred to stay at home, waiting to see what happens.

Some have ventured out to do some shopping ahead of this weekend's Muslim Eid holiday.

And businesses are doing a brisk trade despite the rocketing prices of most basic items as residents have begun to stockpile food in anticipation that prices will continue to rise.

'Scared'

Traders, meanwhile, have begun to provide their own security in the fear that predatory groups will take the advantage of the uncertainty in the city.

Not all shopkeepers, however, can afford to hire private security guards.

Ahmed Sa'id Ali says he runs his shop alone and is taking the risk of remaining open.

"I put my gun into a box six months ago, but I picked it up today for my security, " he says.

People are also frightened to answer their mobile phones in the streets because of security fears.

"I used to pick up my mobile everywhere for the last six months. I am scared now because I am not sure which place is safe for me to be on the phone," a business woman Madiina Abuukar Heyle said.

And the luxury cars, that have become a common sight in the capital lately, have disappeared from the streets because their owners fear bandits will rob them.




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