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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Somali Islamist leader demands Islamic law

MOGADISHU, June 27 (Reuters) - A hardline Somali Islamist named to a top leadership post has said he will negotiate with the country's weak interim government but demanded its constitution reflect sharia law.

Somalia's sharia courts which took over the capital Mogadishu this month, appointed Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys over the weekend to lead their governing council, raising fears the Islamists wants to install Taliban-style rule in Somalia.

Aweys, named in a U.N. list of al Qaeda associates, said in an interview published on Tuesday by the Xogogaal daily newspaper that the Islamists plan to implement "sharia law and its order to all inside the country."

The Islamists' well-trained militias seized Mogadishu from U.S.-backed warlords on June 5 after months of fighting that killed at least 350 people.

Their victory dealt the U.S. counter-terrorism campaign an embarrassing setback, as its funding for the much-despised warlords gave the Islamists popular support that fuelled their rapid march across a key part of Somalia.

Washington has said it would have no contact with Aweys but is yet to decide on relations with the group as a whole.

Aweys repeated his denial of any affiliation with al Qaeda or other extremist groups.

"If being a Muslim is crime, I am a Muslim," he said. "I am not on the American list of terrorists, but I am in a list of those who lost their money due to the closure of Barakat Money Remittance Company by the Americans."

Barakat -- a Somali wire transfer company -- was shut down by the United States after the Sept. 11, 2001, bombings, in what it said was a move to stem financing for extremists.


Aweys said the Islamists would keep their promise to negotiate with President Abdullahi Yusuf's weak but internationally recognised interim government.

But he said the temporary charter now guiding the government must be compliant with sharia.

"We will negotiate with them, discuss and remove the secular articles that are opposed to the Islamic law," Aweys told the newspaper. "The TFG should accept this because the TFG members are also Muslim."

The transitional federal government (TFG), formed in late 2004, has a five-year mandate during which it is being guided by a transitional charter with a goal of creating a new one and holding elections at the end of the interim period.

"One of the pillars of our charter says any rule and law against the Islamic sharia law is null and void. We don't see it as a problem," government spokesman Abdirahman Dinari said.

But the degree of strictness the Islamists may seek is likely to differ from the government's. Somalis in general practice a moderate form of Islam.

Some said the Islamists' plans to stone to death five rapists on Monday, since delayed, shows they want to pursue a hardline Islamic authority despite presenting a moderate face.

Aweys, a former army colonel whose training was credited with giving his militias the edge against the warlords, was among 189 people or entities Washington targeted at that time.
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