updated 1/13/2007 5:55:36 AM ET 2007-01-13T10:55:36

Lawmakers on Saturday authorized the government to declare martial law as the country’s internationally recognized leaders struggled to assert their authority after battling an Islamic movement that had controlled much of southern Somalia.

Parliament’s approval allows the government to impose martial law for a period of three months starting at a time of its choosing, said deputy parliament speaker Osman Ilmi Boqore, who made the announcement during a parliament session broadcast live on a government-owned radio station.

Boqore said 154 members of Somalia’s transitional parliament voted by a show of hands in favor of a government motion to impose martial law in the country. He said two lawmakers voted against the motion.

The session took place in the southern Somali town of Baidoa. The remainder of Somalia’s 275 lawmakers were not present during the session and were either in the capital, Mogadishu, or in neighboring Kenya or elsewhere.

“After long debate on this issue, most of the MPs have voted in favor, so that law has been passed by parliament,” Boqore told the lawmakers.

House-to-house searches
The vote took place as government and Ethiopian soldiers began house-to-house searches for weapons in homes near Mogadishu’s main airport.

On Tuesday, Information Minister Ali Ahmed Jama tabled a motion allowing the government to impose martial law for three months, arguing that the measure was necessary because of insecurity in the country.

Lawmakers opposed to the motion said that too many people have arms in Somalia and that it would be dangerous to impose martial law under such a scenario.

Late Friday, more than eight people were killed and six others injured about 90 miles northwest of Mogadishu when rival clan militias fought over pasture and water for their livestock, elders and residents said on telephone.

Parliament’s vote came a day after Ethiopian-backed government forces captured the last remaining stronghold of the Islamic movement in Somalia after five days of heavy fighting.

Defense Minister Col. Barre “Hirale” Aden Shire said that government troops backed by Ethiopian forces and MiG fighter jets chased fleeing Islamic fighters into nearby forests and the fighting would continue. He did not give casualty figures.

The southern town of Ras Kamboni is in a rugged coastal area a few miles from the Kenyan border. It is not far from the site of a U.S. airstrike Monday targeting suspected al-Qaida militants — the first U.S. offensive in Somalia since 18 American soldiers were killed here in 1993.

Ethiopian and U.S. forces are pursuing three top al-Qaida suspects believed to be in Somalia. The United States has repeatedly accused the Somali Islamist movement of harboring the suspects, wanted in connection with the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

No functioning government
Somalia has not had a functioning government since clan-based warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, sinking the Horn of Africa nation of 7 million people into chaos.

Ethiopia sent troops in on Dec. 24 to attack the Somali Islamic fundamentalist movement. Most of the Islamic militiamen have dispersed, but a few hardcore members have fled south toward the Kenyan border and the Indian Ocean, and others in hiding in the capital have threatened to wage guerrilla war.

The United States, United Nations and the African Union all want to deploy peacekeepers to stop Somalia from returning to clan-based violence and anarchy. But so far no African governments have responded to the call for an 8,000-strong peacekeeping force for the country, although Uganda has indicated it is willing to send 1,500 peacekeepers as part of a wider mission.

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