Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Somalian authorities close down radio stations

SOUND SHUT OUT Locals accused the transitional government of breaking its promises after it moved to stop broadcasts from their main source of news

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , MOGADISHU

Local residents look on as an Ethiopian tank rumbles past in Mogadishu, Somalia, on Monday. Somali troops and allied Ethiopian soldiers conducted house-to-house searches, pursuing gunmen who carried out an attack in the northeastern part of the capital, residents said.

PHOTO: NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

Somalia's transitional government shut three of the country's biggest radio stations on Monday, accusing them of broadcasting incendiary propaganda.

Then, in a show of force, hundreds of government soldiers stormed into the streets of Mogadishu, the capital, as tanks from neighboring Ethiopia, which has been providing military support to the government, chugged through downtown, drawing crowds of onlookers and the occasional rock.

Somalia's government, which declared a state of emergency on Saturday, seems intent on using its newfound powers to crush the seeds of a growing insurgency. On Sunday night, gunmen attacked an Ethiopian convoy, setting off an intense hour-long firefight in one of Mogadishu's ramshackle neighborhoods.

Ethiopian troops last month helped rout Somalia's Islamist forces, which had controlled much of the country, but the Islamists have vowed to regroup underground.

More frequent

As the days pass, the insurgent attacks grow more frequent and more lethal. The government has not released casualty figures, but Mogadishu residents said more than a dozen people had been killed in gunbattles over the past week.

Executives of the radio stations, however, said that was no excuse to force them off the air.

"All we have done is voice different opinions," said Mohammed Amiin, deputy chairman of Shabelle Media Network. "We never expected this to happen."

Abdirahman Dinari, spokesman for the transitional government, accused Shabelle, along with the other stations, of making false reports to stir up the people against the government.

"They said our soldiers were looting the markets and harassing people, which was totally untrue," he said. "They are using the media to undermine the government. They have been doing this for months."

Security officials have summoned station owners to a meeting on Tuesday, and Dinari said there was a possibility that the stations would soon be back on the air, after they were given a warning.

In a land of rival clans, there is a clan dimension to all this. The owners of both Shabelle and Horn Afrik, another station that was closed down, are members of the Ayr, a branch of the powerful Hawiye clan, and many government officials blame the Ayr for the rising level of violence.

"The Ayr clan is part of the problem," Dinari said.

Suspicions

The Ayr was closely associated with the Islamist movement, with several top Islamist leaders from the Ayr. Many residents say they suspect that Ayr members are the backbone of the insurgency, though Ayr elders vehemently deny this.

So far, the most intense fighting -- and the most intense crackdowns -- has been in Ayr neighborhoods, and it is beginning to fuel Ayr resentment.

"We are being harassed simply because of our clan," said Abdi Ali Halaneh, an Ayr businessman who sells building materials in north Mogadishu.

Halaneh said that many of his friends now wanted to leave Somalia.

"There may be no place for us here," he said.

The government also closed the Mogadishu office of al-Jazeera and a Somali religious radio station, which some people feared could play into the hands of the Islamists.

In the Bakara market, where even the tiniest tin kiosk has a radio, shoppers and shopkeepers moaned and hissed when the music and news turned to static. Many shook their radios.

Some derided the government and accused it of being hypocritical because, just a few months ago, government officials had criticized the Islamists for not allowing radio stations to play Western music.

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