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Page last updated at 18:39 GMT, Friday, 5 June 2009 19:39 UK

'Dozens dead' in Somalia fighting

An Islamist fighter in Mogadishu on 16 May 2009
Islamist hardliners have angered the Sufi Muslims by desecrating graves

Heavy fighting has taken place in central Somalia between pro-government militiamen and Islamist hardliners.

At least 36 people were killed and dozens more wounded in the clashes in the town of Webho, according to local elders and medical sources.

The fighting came after the Sufi Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama sect pledged to defend President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed at a meeting of moderate Islamic leaders.

A hardline Islamist alliance controls much of southern and central Somalia.

Correspondents say the Sufi sect has been angered recently by the desecration of the graves of revered Sufi leaders by the al-Shabab group which follows the strict Saudi Arabian-inspired Wahabi branch of Islam.

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A spokesman for al-Shabab, which is accused of links to al-Qaeda, said its forces were in control of Webho - but this was denied by Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama.

The town has changed hands several times in recent weeks.

President Ahmed is a moderate Islamist, who was installed in January after a UN-brokered peace deal.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government for 18 years.



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