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Somalis: Militias Hindering Cup Fans

June 11, 2006

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) _ Islamic militiamen who have seized control of Somalia’s capital fired guns in the air and cut electricity to makeshift cinemas to prevent people from watching the World Cup, witnesses said.

The Islamic Courts Union broke up gatherings to watch the soccer matches Saturday, witnesses said. A strict interpretation of Islamic law often bans Western films and television as immoral.

``As soon as the Islamists took over the security of our city, we thought we would get freedom. But now they have been preventing us from watching the World Cup,″ said Adam Hashi-Ali, a teenager in Mogadishu.

The unrest came as the Islamic militia’s leader said he does not want to impose a Taliban-style government, a significant shift from his earlier calls for a strict Islamic republic.

Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed also denied U.S. claims that the group shields terrorists, including al-Qaida members wanted by the United States for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, in the troubled and impoverished Horn of Africa.

``American concerns are based on misconception,″ the 41-year-old leader said Saturday. ``Islamic courts do not harbor foreign terrorists.″

He added: ``We do not want to impose sharia law. We will accept the views of the Somali people.″

The growing power of the Islamic Courts Union has forced the United States and other world powers to take notice amid concerns that radical Islam could be taking hold.

The United States supported a secular alliance of warlords that was fighting the Islamic militia, in an attempt to root out terrorists. But that plan backfired _ most alliance leaders are in hiding after weeks of fighting killed at least 330 people.

The Islamic Courts Union, a fragile alliance of radical and moderate Muslim groups from different clans, has kept quiet about its plans as its power has increased. That could be a tacit acknowledgment that there is little desire for a fundamentalist theocracy in a society where Islam is relatively tolerant.

But in the past, the group has said strict Islamic state is the only way out of more than a decade of anarchy in Somalia.

The United States said it was inviting European and African countries on short notice to a meeting in New York next week on ways to deal with gains by the Islamic militia. The group controls nearly all of southern Somalia, including the capital.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack had no information on the precise location of the meeting or the identity of the participants.

Some Somalis see a single force in control of the capital as better than nothing in a country of 8 million that has been fractured into rival clan fiefdoms by 15 years of civil war. Indeed, the capital has been relatively calm since the militia seized Mogadishu.

But the Taliban too was hailed as a stabilizing force after years of civil war in Afghanistan.

Somalia has been without a real government since largely clan-based warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and turned on each other, creating rival fiefdoms.

The United Nations helped set up an interim government during talks two years ago, but the government _ based in Baidoa, 155 miles from Mogadishu _ has been unable to enter the capital because of the violence.

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