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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Somali Islamists' World Cup ban sparks protests

MOGADISHU, June 24 (Reuters) - Islamist militiamen shot in the air on Saturday to disperse hundreds of angry Somalis protesting against moves by sharia courts in Mogadishu to stop them watching the World Cup.

Tearing down telephone wires and hurling stones, about three hundred protesters, mostly young Somalis, marched through the capital's streets in a demonstration organised by owners of the makeshift cinemas which have been airing the tournament.

The Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which took control of Mogadishu earlier this month, began pulling the power on television screens in public places during the France-Togo match late on Friday in Mogadishu's Gubta area.

"We will continue the revolt until the Islamic courts take back this horrible decision," said Omar Diirane, a cinema owner and one of the protest's organisers.

Islamist militia broke up another demonstration earlier this month when a similar ban in another area of the city ignited protests.

"The Islamic Courts Union dismantled all western practices in the capital including watching of the World Cup," Sheikh Abdullah Moallim, an ICU official, said.

While the ICU has brought relative peace and stability to Mogadishu for the first time in years, residents say some Islamist militia are imposing hardline practices like forcibly cutting hair and making women cover their heads and faces.

"The Islamic Courts have started oppressing," 20-year-old Sahro Abdi said. "To oppress the people is a bad habit."

Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the moderate face of the ICU which also includes more radical Muslim leaders, has denied accusations his organisation wants to establish a Taliban-style rule in Somalia.

The Islamist takeover of Mogadishu and other towns has further complicated the 14th attempt to restore central rule to Somalia since the 1991 ousting of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

A weak interim government, formed in Kenya in 2004, is currently based in the provincial town of Baidoa.

The Islamists and the interim government signed a deal in Khartoum on Thursday aimed at preventing confrontation and starting negotiations.
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