Somalia bans cars in Baidoa to avert attacks
MOGADISHU, Dec 5 (Reuters) Somalia's weak interim government today banned cars from entering the town where it is based to try to stop more car bomb attacks there.
A suicide bombing near Baidoa, about 250 km (155 miles) from the capital Mogadishu, killed nine people last week in an attack which came less than three months after suicide bombers narrowly missed killing President Abdullahi Yusuf.
Somali Deputy Defence Minister Salad Ali Jelle initially blamed rival Islamists for Friday's blast, but another minister said it was too early to point the finger at anyone.
The Somalia Islamic Courts Council, the nation's most powerful military force which has challenged the Western-backed interim administration's authority and effectively flanked it on three sides, has denied any involvement.
''We have banned travellers using sedan cars to Baidoa in order to prevent further suicide attacks,'' District Commissioner Ahmed Maddey Issak told Reuters by telephone.
''Travellers have been using 40 to 50 small sedan cars a day which is overwhelming our security officials,'' he said, adding that small cars on official business would have to obtain advance clearance.
Travellers would now have to use minivans and buses to go to Baidoa which would be subjected to searches at checkpoints.
The Islamists have suggested their arch-foe Ethiopia, which is backing the government, had a hand in the suicide attack to create a reason to attack them. Ethiopia denies any involvement.
Diplomats fear the standoff between the Islamists, who control Mogadishu and much of the south, and the government will spiral into all-out conflict, sucking in neighbouring countries and attracting foreign Islamic militants.
Talks between the two sides stalled last month and some fear the latest violence will derail further negotiations.
On a trip to Addis Ababa, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi late yesterday accused the Islamists of being an al Qaeda front into the region.
''The so-called UIC (Union of Islamic Courts) was established to strengthen the al Qaeda network and to infiltrate terrorists with a view to destabilising the Horn of Africa region,'' Gedi told Ethiopian state media.
Gedi, who met Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, also appealed for international assistance for the government.
In Baidoa, the ban was met with anger by car owners who rent out their vehicles.
''It is not fair to let buses and mini buses work while banning us from working,'' Hassan Abdullahi Ali, a driver who shuttles from Mogadishu to Baidoa.
REUTERS PDM ND1814