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Islamists in Somalia Ban Sale, Use of Popular Local Narcotic

The Islamic Courts Union Friday imposed a total ban in the capital Mogadishu and other areas it controls on the sale and consumption of khat, a mildly narcotic plant chewed by many Somali men. The Islamists have also imposed a night-time curfew in Mogadishu following a violent demonstration in which one person was killed and several injured.

Islamic Courts Union official Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed told reporters that anyone caught carrying, consuming, transporting, and selling the popular narcotic would be fined up to 500,000 Somali shillings, about $365.

Ahmed said Somalis spend too much money on khat, harming the economy and "being a source of anti-social behavior" that is not to be tolerated under Sharia, or Islamic, law.

Mohamed Dhoore is a news editor with Horn Afrik. He explains to VOA some of the reactions of khat vendors he spoke after the ban was announced.

"Some of the women are saying, originally we had supported the Islamic Courts, and actually they are trying to eliminate us," he said. "They are destroying our livelihoods - we can't tolerate [this situation]. And some of the people are saying the Islamic Courts have become as [bad] as the warlords."

He says many people who had previously supported the Islamic Courts Union are changing their minds now that their livelihoods and khat consumption is being so threatened.

The announcement of the ban on khat, combined with Kenya's recent decision to halt all flights to Somalia, has raised the ire of many vendors and consumers. Much of Somalia's khat comes from Kenya.

Subsequent demonstrations in Mogadishu turned violent after Islamist security forces fired into the crowd, killing a teenage boy and injuring several others.

The Islamic Courts Union then imposed an overnight curfew in the capital in an attempt to quell the violence.

The Islamic Courts Union rose to power earlier this year and took control of Mogadishu in June. Since then, the group has expanded into much of southern Somalia, threatening the stability of the transitional government.

In addition to the ban on khat, the group has reportedly imposed bans on smoking, cinemas, live music, and other activities in various locations throughout Somalia.