From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Mar 25 2009 - 09:13:38 EST
Somalis protest against Al Shabaab's drug ban
Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:23pm GMT
* Hundreds take to street against Shabaab
* Fighters fire in air, arrest dozens
By Mohamed Ahmed and Abdi Guled
MOGADISHU, March 25 (Reuters) - Fighters for the hardline Islamist group al
Shabaab fired in the air in a Somali town on Wednesday to disperse hundreds
of people demonstrating against a ban on the popular khat narcotic in a
Al Shabaab, a pro-al Qaeda group which is fighting the Somali government and
African Union peacekeepers, overran Baidoa town -- the former seat of
parliament -- earlier this year to increase its grip on large swathes of
Somalis, who are traditionally moderate Muslims, say al Shabaab leaders
normally bring security to areas under their control, but also impose
hardline practices that many resent.
Nearly 1,000 enraged locals took to Baidoa's streets on Wednesday, witnesses
said, even throwing stones at the militants in their rage against a ban on
The leaf, a mild stimulant, is chewed by most Somali men and is an important
part of their culture.
"We don't want the khat to be stopped, we don't want an Al Shabaab
administration," demonstrator Ali Mohamed told Reuters.
Fighters shot into the air to end the protest and detained about 50 people,
locals said. One demonstrator was arrested, and the militants demolished
rows of khat kiosks.
On a Web site it uses, al Shabaab urged Somalis to redouble attacks on a
growing AU peacekeeping force in Mogadishu.
The AU said this week Uganda had sent another battalion to Somalia. That
would bring the mission to around 4,500 soldiers.
"We ask all Muslim brothers to continue fighting against the infidels
flowing into our country," Al Shabaab said on the Internet site it uses,
"It's the right time for the Mujahideen to double attacks on AU forces as
long as they are continuing the deployment of new troops in Somalia ... We
have a generation ready to fight by any means as long as they are present in
U.N. ENVOY UPBEAT
Al Shabaab is the main obstacle to a new government seeking to bring peace
and central rule to the Horn of Africa nation in the 15th such attempt
during 18 years of civil conflict.
U.N. envoy to Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, told Reuters in Tanzania that
despite al Shabaab's threat, there was cautious optimism President Sheikh
Sharif Ahmed's government would be able to make progress in stabilising the
Ahmed is a moderate Islamist who used to run a sharia courts movement whose
fighting wing was al Shabaab.
"I consider the government in its honeymoon period ... there's a lot of
optimism. Because the war has been fought for so long, the suffering is so
long that people are crying for peace," the envoy told Reuters at a
conference in Zanzibar.
"He (Ahmed) is at the same time facing many problems, including scepticism
because after 20 years of war it is difficult to bring people on board ...
The government has to strengthen its base and simultaneously reach out to
Residents in the al Shabaab-controlled towns of Kismayu and Baidoa say
foreign fighters -- east Africans, Arabs and Asians -- have arrived in
recent weeks and now sport the popular green suit and black mask of al
Regional diplomats also say they have heard credible reports of weapons
being flown into al Shabaab areas. (Additional reporting by George Obulutsa
in Zanzibar; Editing by Jon Boyle)
C Thomson Reuters 2009 All rights reserved
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