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Ethiopian troops enter Mogadishu

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MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) -- Ethiopian troops, along with Somali government soldiers, entered Mogadishu on the heels of retreating Islamist troops Thursday, according to a journalist in the Somali capital.

A spokesman for the U.N.-backed Somali government said the Islamic Courts Union (ICU) militia forces handed over their weapons to local clans with the hope they would use them against the Ethiopians and Somali government soldiers.

Witnesses reported chaos and looting throughout the city as the Islamist fighters abandoned the city ahead of the advancing troops.

Omar Faruk Osman, Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists, told CNN he saw Ethiopian troops in the streets of Mogadishu Thursday and that witnesses told him they entered the capital from the west.

Ali Faisal, a spokesman for the Somali government, said the Islamist troops "are giving weapons to clans." It was not immediately clear if those clan members intended to resist the advancing Ethiopian forces.

On Wednesday, residents of northern Mogadishu began celebrating what they believe will be the defeat of the Islamist troops by waving pictures of Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi. They were also drinking alcohol and chewing khat -- a leaf that produces a kind of high -- which were banned when the ICU took over Mogadishu in June.

But many people also worked to protect their homes and businesses ahead of the expected fighting in the capital.

ICU leader Sharif Sheik Ahmed told reporters in Somalia Thursday that his forces were retreating from Mogadishu.

Until recent days when Ethiopian troops joined the fight, the ICU held most of southern and central Somalia, while the transitional government -- Somalia has had no fully functional government since 1991 -- has based in Baidoa.

In early June, the ICU militia wrested control of Mogadishu from a U.S.-backed coalition of secular warlords.

The ICU has drawn comparisons to the Taliban, the fundamentalist militia that imposed a strict Islamic regime on Afghanistan and allowed al Qaeda to operate from its territory.

Ahmed has denied accusations that his group is harboring al Qaeda operatives and other terrorists.

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Islamist fighters taken as prisoners are shown Wednesday in Baidoa, Somalia.

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