Somali gov’t launches media crackdown

MOGADISHU (Reuters) — Somalia’s government, with new emergency powers in hand to tame the chaotic country, ordered four major media outlets to shut down on Monday as the president named a team to take charge of the capital.

The interim government, weeks after arriving in Mogadishu on the heels of an Ethiopian-led offensive, is struggling to impose order and has seen forces backing it attacked repeatedly, most recently in a firefight late Sunday.

The government’s national security agency sent the closure order by letter to HornAfrik Media, Shabelle Media Network, the Koranic radio station IQK and the local office of Al Jazeera television.

“You should shut down upon receipt of this letter and appear at 10:00am on Tuesday at the office of national security,” said the letter, signed by Col. Ahmad Hassan Ali and seen by Reuters.

Managers at HornAfrik and Shabelle, among the country’s biggest independent broadcasters, both confirmed they shut down as ordered. Qatar-based Al Jazeera said it had not been informed but saw no reason for such a move. IQK could not immediately be reached for comment.

“Now that there is a government in place, they need to get a licence and avoid causing unrest by airing unconfirmed reports,” government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.

The government is seeking to bring the Horn of Africa nation of 10 million under control after its soldiers with Ethiopian backing in late December routed Islamists who had taken over much of southern Somalia.

‘City in chaos’

Dinari declined to say whether the move was carried out under sweeping emergency powers the parliament voted to give President Abdullahi Yusuf on Saturday. “If this is what state of emergency is meant, then it completely undermines the democratic values that the TFG [Government] has been proclaiming,” the National Union of Somali Journalists said in a statement.

Somali Parliament Speaker Sharif Hassan Sheikh Adan, who MPs say is soon to be ousted for his close links to the Islamists, met EU Aid Commissioner Louis Michel in Brussels.

“I strongly express my legitimate concerns about the possible negative consequences of martiallaw … on a credible reconciliation process,” he told reporters afterwards.

Yusuf on Monday appointed a mayor and three other officials to administer the capital, which he himself came to last week for the first time since 1994 — having steered clear during his more than two years in office because of poor security. “We see the city is in chaos. It’s not safe,” he said.

Underscoring the challenge in a nation in anarchy since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohammad Siad Barre was the latest battle between unidentified gunmen and allied Somali-Ethiopian troops.

The assault on an Ethiopian convoy came late Sunday in Mogadishu’s northern Arafat area where Ethiopian and government forces hours earlier seized guns, explosives and an armoured car in the latest sweep to scoop up weapons.

A doctor at Madina hospital, who declined to be named, said eight people were wounded while a Somali government source said the 30-minute battle killed three Somalis.

“I saw an Ethiopian truck being hit by an RPG and two Ethiopian bodies being loaded into another truck,” witness Dadir Abid told Reuters, adding he was not sure if the Ethiopians were dead or injured.

Witnesses said several Ethiopian tanks were also moved into the area, where Islamists had fought intense battles to wrest Mogadishu from its warlord rulers in June.

It was not clear who carried out the attack in a city where much of the population has guns, although suspicion will fall on Islamist remnants who have vowed guerrilla war, clan gunmen or former warlord militias who have moved back into Mogadishu.

Ethiopia wants to withdraw its soldiers in the coming weeks but diplomats fear that would leave a security vacuum around the fledgling government, which is awaiting an African Union peacekeeping deployment as soon as it can be cobbled together.

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