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Mixed Reaction to Closure of Cinemas in Somali Capital

In Somalia's capital, there are mixed reactions over the recent closure of public cinemas by hard-line Islamists, with some people believing the closures are just the beginning of repressive measures, while others saying that local militias, not Islamic court leaders, unilaterally shut the cinemas.

Anger among many Mogadishu residents that are unable to watch World Cup soccer games, movies, and other entertainment at their local cinemas led to violent protests during the weekend in the capital.

A spokesman for the Islamic courts, which recently claimed victory in the capital against a group known as the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism, was quoted in press reports as saying the cinemas show Western and Indian movies that corrupt the morals of young people.

But it is not clear whether or not the leadership of the Islamic courts ordered the cinema closures.

Ali Musa Abdi is a reporter with the French news agency who is in Mogadishu. He says that, according to his research, local militias acted unilaterally in shutting the cinemas down.

"The Islamic court officials, most of them, they do not appreciate movies and other things," said Abdi. "But they say they have no time [to close the cinemas], and this time they are dealing with other security matters rather than engaging themselves in local petty politics of cinemas."

Abdi says Mogadishu residents have mixed feelings about the closures, with some saying that this is the beginning of the widespread imposition of strict Sharia law contrary to Somalia's secular state, and others saying that the closures are long overdue.

"The people are much more worried saying that maybe these people are imposing their own rules," said Abdi. "But others are saying that the cinemas have never been helpful, they were not paying taxation to anybody, they have been run by gunmen, and the sanitation in some of the cinemas was very bad, and some are not worried, so they are divided over the issue of cinemas."

For the past several months, militias loyal to the Islamic courts had been battling warlords and militias belonging to the Alliance for the Restoration of Peace and Counter-terrorism.

When the Islamic courts declared that they had taken control of Mogadishu many inside Somalia and outside, including the United States, expressed concern that the Islamic courts would usher in a new era of restrictive measures under Islamic Sharia law and could possibly create an environment that would harbor terrorists.

An Islamic court leader was recently quoted as saying his group would not impose Sharia law unless people wanted it.

Since civil war broke out in 1991, clan-based militias have controlled different parts of the country, with no central authority to provide law and order or basic services to the population.

A transitional Somali parliament was formed in Kenya more than a year ago and is based in the Somali city of Baidoa.