Islamic militia tighten their grip over Somali capital
Islamic militiamen peacefully took Mogadishu's disused, rusting seaport Wednesday, consolidating their grip on the Somali capital.
Some 300 militiamen rolled into the port on trucks equipped with heavy weapons and took up positions around the facility after secular warlord Mohamed Jama Furuh, one of the last holdouts to militia control, surrendered without resistance.
Outside Mogadishu, Islamic militiamen fatally shot a 35-year-old man when they opened fire on some 150 businesspeople protesting against new taxes imposed by the radical group in the town of Jowhar.
The shooting and port takeover came a day after the Islamic militia defeated hundreds of fighters in Mogadishu who were resisting the group's strict religious rule.
The U.S. has linked some militia leaders to al-Qaida, raising concerns about the establishment of Taliban-style, hard-line rule in the Horn of Africa country.
The militia seized the capital last month and controls most of southern Somalia.
Hundreds return home
Hundreds of people returned Wednesday to homes they had fled to escape the fighting in the capital, which killed more than 70 people and wounded at least 380, according to witnesses and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Mogadishu port, Somalia's biggest, has been the scene of some of Mogadishu's heaviest battles among rival warlords. Its massive cranes are rusty relics and it normally is deserted except for fishermen landing their daily catch.
The national port and airport in Mogadishu have been closed for the last 15 years because rival armed groups in the capital could not agree on who should run the facilities.
East African leaders last month said all Somali armed groups should hand over seaportsand airports and other national assets to the beleaguered transitional government. But Furuh said that since the Islamic group had taken control of the capital, his only option was to hand over what he described as national property.
Furuh also is state minister for ports in the virtually powerless, UN-approved interim government, which has almost no influence outside the town of Baidoa,more than 200 kilometresnorthwest of the capital.
Several warlords have such double roles, and the handover was not seen as an official government act.
Furuh's fighters, who had been holding the port, looked on and pledged to work with the Islamic militiamen.
"We are happy and would like to see all other government infrastructure be handed over like this," said Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, one of the leaders of the Islamic group.
The transitional government has no army, is weakened by infighting and is distrusted by some Somalis because it includes among its leaders warlords blamed for dragging the country into chaos.
The Islamic fighters have promised peace and stability under Qur'anic law.
Relations between the Islamic fighters and the interim government have deteriorated since the two sides met under Arab League auspices last month and signed a non-aggression and mutual recognition agreement.
Another Arab League-mediated meeting was scheduled Saturday, but government officials have said they would not talk with the militia's radical leader.
The Islamic militia has grown increasingly radical since seizing Mogadishu, replacing a moderate leader with a radical cleric the U.S. has linked to al-Qaeda.
Somalia has not had an effective central government since opposition leaders ousted longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
They then turned on each other, carving this nation of an estimated eight million people into rival fiefdoms.