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Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Friday, 24 April 2009 15:59 UK

Somali cleric demands AU leaves

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys
Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys spent two years in exile in Eritrea

Islamist opposition leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys has called for African Union troops to leave Somalia before he talks to the government.

He was addressing hundreds of his supporters in the capital a day after returning from two years in exile.

Mr Aweys, who is on the US terror list, is an influential figure amongst Islamist insurgents attempting to destabilise the fledgling government.

His former ally Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is now president.

The two men headed the Union of Islamic Court (UIC), which ruled most of the country for the second half of 2006 before being ousted by Ethiopian forces.

They fled to the Eritrean capital Asmara, where they formed the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS).

They split after Mr Ahmed - considered the more moderate of the two - agreed to UN-led talks with the government that brought him to power in January 2009 and saw Ethiopia withdraw its troops.

The only foreign troops left in the country are about 4,300 AU peacekeepers deployed in the capital, Mogadishu.

Mr Aweys's remarks come a day after international donors pledged more than $250m (£172m) to help Somalia build up its security forces, fight piracy, and restore order on land and sea.

'Invaders'

"Let me make it clear, We do not want any foreign troops on our land," Mr Aweys said, describing them as "bacteria".

A crowd in Mogadishu listens to Mr Aweys speak
Gunmen stood guard as Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys addressed his supporters

"They do not keep peace, they are invaders. So I call on all foreign troops to leave our country."

The AU peacekeepers face frequent attacks from insurgents such as al-Shabab, which control parts of Mogadishu and much of central and southern Somalia and has sworn to topple the fragile government.

But a spokesman for the AU mission in Somalia said the peacekeepers were there at the invitation of the government, and only the Somali government could order them to leave.

At the rally Mr Aweys went on to attack the flotilla of warships patrolling the coast to control piracy, saying Somalis would fight with pirates and not against them.

"Somalis are brave people who can never tolerate their enemies," he said.

"There are many foreign navies in our waters whose agenda is not only to fight the pirates, but for a hidden agenda: To capture our land using piracy as an excuse."

Speaking at the funding conference in Brussels earlier, President Ahmed said his government wanted to build up a 10,000-strong police force and a 6,000-strong national security force, saying this could help to contain the piracy.

Somalia has had no central government since 1991 and more than one million people have been made homeless by fighting in the past two years and one-third of the population depends on food aid to survive.

Mr Aweys is on a US most-wanted list of suspected terrorists with links to al-Qaeda.



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