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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Somalia Islamists take key town
Islamist militia member in Mogadishu
Some Somalis believe the Islamists are too militant
Islamic militia have taken control of the central Somali town of Beletuein.

The strategic town changed hands after fighting erupted in between the town's previous pro-government rulers and the militia of a local Islamic court.

Tension is high in central Somalia as the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that controls much of southern Somalia tries to spread its influence further north.

Earlier, two were injured in Galkayo in a protest led by clerics who say the UIC's brand of Islam is too militant.

Strategic

The BBC's Hassan Barise in Mogadishu says no one was injured in the short battle in the strategically important town of Beletuein, some 300km north of the capital.

Somali women in Kenya
I'm not willing to go back to Somalia until Somalia becomes peaceful and a democracy

The reason for the fighting is believed to have been related to a dispute over the administration's relationship with Ethiopia, he says.

The administration was appointed by the interim government based in Baidoa, which the local Islamic court accuses of being a puppet of Ethiopia.

The town is now calm and residents applauded the victory of the Islamic court, which is allied to the UIC.

Our reporter says Beletuein is especially important for the Islamists, as they can now move their militias and supplies from south to north without hindrance.

It indicates that the courts are trying to spread their influence throughout the country, he says.

Scuffles

Meanwhile, correspondents say residents in Galkayo, 600km north west of the capital, are divided about whether to support the UIC.

Map of Somalia

Galkayo borders Puntland, an effectively autonomous region believed to be against the courts.

Hundreds of people carrying placards and shouting anti-UIC slogans took part in the demonstrations before scuffles broke out, Somalia's Shabelle website reports.

UIC militia are reported to be controlling a main road outside Galkayo.

They have sent representatives into the town to see about setting up an Islamic court there.

In Baidoa, Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Ghedi is attempting to form a new 31-member cabinet after the previous cabinet was dissolved on Monday.

President Abdullahi Yusuf has given him a week to form a new government.

The two agreed on Monday to put aside their differences, after divisions on the question of possible talks with the Islamists sparked a crisis in the government.

The interim cabinet originally had more than 100 members, not all of whom had been approved by parliament.

Over the past two weeks some 40 ministers quit their posts in protest at the prime minister's opposition to peace talks with the UIC, and Mr Ghedi narrowly survived a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

The weak interim government remains split about holding talks with the UIC.

Somalia has been without an effective central government since warlords toppled dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

The UIC has been credited with success in bringing stability since June to the capital, Mogadishu, for the first time in 15 years.


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