Little relief in Ramadan for war-weary Mogadishu

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MOGADISHU, Sep 14 (Reuters) Gun battles in Mogadishu killed at least six people early today and residents said they feared Ramadan would bring no let up in a months-long insurgency that has battered the Somali capital.

Four civilians and two government soldiers died in the overnight clashes between the security forces and Islamist-led guerrillas, which came hours after the interim government lifted a dusk-to-dawn curfew that had been in place since June.

Witnesses said the dead were carted away on wheelbarrows.

Sitting outside his home in a city backstreet, Osman Muhammed Mudey had little hope of a lull in the violence.

''I don't think the groups will stop fighting during Ramadan, because those who do not respect human life will not respect Ramadan,'' the 38-year-old father of four said with a shrug.

Walking to a nearby market to buy supplies for the big evening meal that follows daylight fasting, Kasho Ahmed told Reuters residents were praying to Allah to end the bloodshed.

''In Islam, it is totally wrong to fight during the holy month,'' she said, clutching the hand of her five-year-old son.

Ramadan began yesterday, a day after Somali opposition figures formed a new alliance in Eritrea that vowed to wage war on Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia's government.

Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi rejected the new movement -- which counts Islamist leaders and former government officials among its ranks -- and he slammed Eritrea for hosting the opposition talks and ''creating violence in the Horn of Africa''.

The Asmara conference was due to end today, and Eritrean state media said Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, an ex-leader of Somalia's Islamic Courts movement, had been elected alliance chairman.

Organisers of the meeting refused to confirm that and said the delegates were still locked up in closed-door negotiations.

Ahmed's sharia courts group was routed from Mogadishu over the New Year by government forces and the Ethiopian military.

The forging of the alliance provides yet another bone of contention between long-time foes Asmara and Addis Ababa, analysts say, and is likely to push back any prospect of desperately needed reconciliation in Somali politics.

Washing clothes in bright sunshine outside her home in Somalia's coastal capital, housewife Fatuma Ali said the move did not give her hope that calm would return to Mogadishu soon.

''Since the Asmara groups decided to liberate the country from the Ethiopians, I don't think fighting will stop, even though it is Ramadan,'' she said.

REUTERS SBC PM1515

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