MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s cabinet declared a state of emergency on Saturday and the parliament speaker asked neighboring countries to send troops to help the government within the next 24 hours as fighting intensified in the capital.
Two legislators have been killed in the last two days in worsening violence between government forces and hardline Islamists trying to oust the Horn of Africa nation’s leadership.
Al Shaabab insurgents stepped up an offensive against Somalia’s government last month and on Thursday killed the country’s security minister and at least 30 other people in a suicide car bomb attack.
They also killed an MP in northern Mogadishu on Friday.
“Today the Somali cabinet has unanimously declared that the country is in a state of emergency,” a cabinet statement said.
Parliament speaker Sheikh Aden Mohamed Madobe had earlier asked neighboring countries to step in militarily to rescue the struggling government.
Residents in the central areas of the Horn of Africa country reported on Saturday seeing Ethiopian troops in Somalia.
“We are asking the world and neighboring countries to intervene in Somalia’s situation immediately,” Madobe told a parliament meeting convened as the opposition fighters advanced toward the presidential palace.
“We want them to come here within 24 hours,” he said.
“We’ve been forced to make this request because of the escalating violence. Those fighting the government are being led by a (former) Pakistani army general, they are burning the flag and killing people,” Madobe said.
Kenya said on Friday it would not sit by and allow the situation in its neighbor to deteriorate further because it would destabilize the region.
Kenya and other countries in the region as well as Western nations fear that if the chaos continues in Somalia, groups with links to al Qaeda will become entrenched and threaten the stability of neighboring countries.
Kenya said on Friday the African Union was committed to beefing up its 4,300-strong peacekeeping mission in Somalia and helping to build a police force.
But an al Shaabab spokesman warned it against any intervention.
“Kenya had been saying that it will attack the mujahideen of al Shaabab for the last four months. If it tries to, we will attack Kenya and destroy the tall buildings of Nairobi,” Sheik Hasan Yacqub told reporters in the southern port city of Kismayu.
Fighting in Mogadishu since May 7, in which about 300 people have been killed, is the worst for years and the chances of a negotiated peace are waning, analysts say.
The local Elman Peace and Human Rights Organization said 67 civilians had been killed since Tuesday and 218 wounded.
In 2006, Ethiopia sent troops to Somalia to defend the government against Islamists. They withdrew earlier this year but local media has reported that villagers have seen them back on Somali soil.
Residents in Baladwayne said Ethiopian troops were very close to the central town near the border.
“They are not inside the town now. They are about 5 km (3 miles) away and are expected any minute,” resident Muna Abdi told Reuters by telephone.
Islamists in Elberdi town in Bakol region said troops had also crossed into Somalia but that they would fight them back.
“Ethiopians crossed the border and they are now in Elberdi and we are ready to fight with them. We will give them a similar lesson to the one we gave them in the past,” Sheik Hassan Moalim, head of al Shaabab’s military operations in Bakol, told Reuters.
Additional reporting by Mohamed Ibrahim; Writing by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Janet Lawrence