MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Islamist militiamen shot in the air to disperse hundreds of Somalis protesting early on Saturday against moves by sharia courts to stop them watching the World Cup in the capital Mogadishu, residents said.
The soccer tournament had drawn huge crowds to television screens set up under trees and iron-sheeted shacks, providing some escape from the tension that has gripped Mogadishu since Islamists seized control from an alliance of warlords on Monday.
Witnesses said scores of young men set fire to tyres late on Friday in protests that carried on into the early hours of Saturday after Islamist gunmen pulled the plug on makeshift cinemas airing the soccer tournament.
Two people were wounded when militia tried to break up the demonstrations that centred around the main livestock market in an Islamist stronghold in the capital's north, residents said.
"The Islamic militia of the area issued an order to stop them watching films as well as the World Cup this year in Germany," said Elmi Muse, a resident contacted by Reuters.
"It is unacceptable to oppress the people," he added.
Similar moves by Islamist militia to close cinemas and video stores in Mogadishu last November triggered heavy fighting that killed at least 12 people and wounded more than 20.
Leaders of the capital's influential Islamic courts oppose Western and Indian films which they say promote immorality in the mainly Muslim nation of 10 million people.
Some residents fear the latest move to outlaw foreign entertainment is proof the Islamists want to create a Muslim state following their victory against a self-styled anti-terrorism coalition of secular warlords, believed to be backed by Washington.
The Islamic courts have been popular for restoring a semblance of order through sharia law in parts of the anarchic city, carved into fiefdoms by warlords who ousted military ruler Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.
However, the World Cup ban stirred resentment among locals, already weary of the fighting in Mogadishu that has killed 350 people in three months.
"The residents of this area are very sorry about the way the Islamic militia is behaving towards the people at a time when our society needs peace and stability," said Moallim Hussein Abdi, a teacher.
One teenager was defiant.
"We do not accept the Islamic militia stopping us from watching the World Cup," Ahmed Yusuf, 19, said. "We'll continue demonstrating until they relent."
By Mohamed Ali Bile