Somali insurgents drag dead Ethiopians in streets

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MOGADISHU, Nov 8 (Reuters) Somali insurgents dragged the bodies of dead Ethiopian soldiers through the streets of Mogadishu today in the latest outbreak of fighting that has sent thousands fleeing the capital.

Witnesses said at least three Ethiopian soldiers, who are backing the interim Somali government, were killed during battles in the Sqa Holaha neighbourhood in northern Mogadishu.

''I saw three Ethiopian troops killed by insurgents. Crowds of people were chanting 'God is great' and dragging their bodies on the ground,'' resident Deqo Ali told Reuters.

The grisly scenes recalled the 1993 shooting-down of two Black Hawk helicopters by Somali militiamen during a failed US operation to hunt down warlords in Mogadishu.

Images of dead Americans dragged through the streets by joyous Somalis deeply shocked US public opinion, precipitating American withdrawal and contributing to the ending of the UN peacekeeping operation in 1995.

Ethiopian corpses were also dragged through Mogadishu in March, during offensives against insurgent strongholds in which hundreds died.

Fighting in Mogadishu this year has sent hundreds of thousands fleeing the city and made aid delivery next to impossible in the capital.

Many ordinary Somalis and insurgents drawn mainly from a militant Islamist movement that ruled Mogadishu briefly last year, resent the presence of their ancient enemy Ethiopia and often carry out violent protests against its troops.

Hundreds of residents burned tyres and poured into the streets of southern Mogadishu on Wednesday to protest against the Ethiopians, who helped the government seize the lawless capital last year and are essential to retaining control.

In the south-central town of Baidoa, where the Somali parliament still sits, the United Nations country head urged legislators today to move quickly to stem the humanitarian crisis.

''I want to be clear here today that 1.5 million Somalis are in need of emergency aid. And the number of people that have been displaced goes up 850,000,'' UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Eric Laroche told parliament.

''We have to be able to help them and we have a problem reaching them.'' Parliament's main order of business will be approving a new prime minister to succeed Ali Mohamed Gedi, who resigned last week after a feud with the president.

President Abdullahi Yusuf told parliament, which has approved a legal change allowing non-legislators to serve as prime minister and cabinet ministers, that he would work quickly to find a replacement.

''We now have a challenge to nominate a prime minister, which I promise I will do by consulting with you,'' Yusuf said. Neither he nor his allies have said whom they are considering.

Diplomats say the legal change has widened the pool of qualified leaders from beyond the parliament, which counts among its members many illiterate warlords and clan leaders.

They hope the interim government will be able to bring in qualified leaders from the Somali diaspora.

The feud between Yusuf and Gedi has stalled progress by the government, the 14th attempt at imposing central rule since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre plunged the Horn of Africa country into anarchy in 1991.

Reuters NY DB2248

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