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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Somali Women Take to the Streets

KISMAYO, Somalia -- Hundreds of women took to the streets of the strategic Somali port town of Kismayo on Tuesday to protest the arrival of a radical Islamic militia, one day after the militants opened fire on a larger protest and killed a teenager. Militiamen quickly broke up Tuesday's protest and arrested 20 women, according to relatives of the demonstrators who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals. The militants also parked their "technicals" -- trucks mounted with guns -- along roads to prevent gatherings.

The militants' strict and often severe interpretation of Islam raises memories of Afghanistan's Taliban, and contrasts with the moderate Islam that has dominated Somali culture for centuries. Somalis fleeing the conflict have pushed the number of refugees in neighboring Kenya to the highest level in a decade, the United Nations World Food Program said Tuesday.

The number of registered refugees in Kenya has reached 240,000, with thousands of new arrivals straining resources severely, the UN said.

The United States has accused the Islamic group of sheltering suspects in the 1998 al-Qaida bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden has portrayed Somalia as a battleground in his war on the United States.

Still, some Somalis have embraced the radicals because they have brought a semblance of order to a troubled corner of Africa.

The country's official government was formed two years ago with the support of the United Nations, but it has failed to establish any control outside its base in Baidoa, 250 kilometers from the capital, Mogadishu.

North of Kismayo, troops from neighboring Ethiopia arrived Monday to support the weak government. Witnesses saw about 300 Ethiopians in a convoy of 50 armored trucks in Bardaale, 60 kilometers west of Baidoa.

Islamic forces believe Ethiopian troops aim to cut off their route between Kismayo and Mogadishu, and called their incursion a declaration of war.

Over the past several days, Islamic militiamen have been operating training camps for the general public in preparation for a possible battle with Ethiopian troops in Baidoa. The students, whose number was unclear, perform physical exercise, shoot at targets and handle weapons. "We will instruct them in combat tactics so that they can defend their land and religion against the Ethiopian enemy forces occupying Baidoa," said Sheik Abdirahman Janaqow, deputy chairman of the Islamic courts.

Liban Abdi Hussein, 24, a student at one of the camps, said he was happy to learn how to fight a holy war against the Ethiopians, who are Christians.

"I want martyrdom," he said.