Mogadishu - Islamic leaders in Mogadishu gave a woman 11 lashes for selling cannabis on Thursday, the first female to receive such punishment since the fundamentalist rulers took over the capital in June.

The woman, who throughout the beating insisted she was innocent, was flogged alongside five other men at the Yassin Square in Mogadishu in front of several hundred people. The small bundle of cannabis, worth around $1 on the streets in the capital, was burned before the crowd.

"The reason we punished them was that we want to stop people selling and using drugs," said a local security official, Sheik Omar Hussein. "We believe as Islamists that people should stay away from drugs."The imposition of strict religious rule has sparked fears of an emerging, Taliban-style regime. The United States accuses Somalia's Islamic leaders of harbouring al-Qaeda leaders responsible for deadly bombings at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Somalia has not had a police force or judiciary for 16 years since the warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on each other, carving much of the country into armed camps ruled by violence and clan law.

The Islamic leaders stepped into the vacuum in Mogadishu and most of southern Somalia, projecting themselves as a source of stability.

Late Tuesday, Islamic militiamen raided a makeshift video hall in Mogadishu, beating up viewers watching an Indian film. Like the Taliban, members of the group appear to see any secular entertainment as un-Islamic.

Somalia has a weak transitional government set up two years ago with United Nations-backing, but it has been unable to assert its authority beyond Baidoa, 240km north-west of Mogadishu, and could only watch helplessly as Islamic militants seized the capital in June. - Sapa-AP