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Islamist Militiamen Seize Control of Key Somali Port

Islamist militiamen have seized control of a key port in central Somalia, extending their control further north from the capital.

Fighters loyal to Somalia's Council of Islamic Courts rode into the port of Hobyo early Wednesday on pick-up trucks with mounted machine-guns (known as battlewagons or technicals). Residents of the town say the fighters faced no resistance.

Meanwhile, Islamic court officials say at least 100 troops formerly allied with Somalia's weak interim government are joining the Islamist movement. They say the troops have left the government territory around the town of Baidoa and are on their way to Mogadishu.

Islamist forces have been gradually expanding their control over southern and central Somalia, setting up courts that dispense a strict form of Islamic (sharia) law.

Somalia's feeble interim government continues to have international backing but has virtually no power outside its base in Baidoa.

Over the weekend, Islamist fighters took the coastal towns of Eldher and Harardhere, which had been used as bases by pirates. The militia has vowed to outlaw piracy.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.