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By Abdi Sheikh

MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Hundreds of soldiers went on strike in the Somali capital on Sunday, blocking roads and forcing businesses to close in protest over unpaid salaries, a challenge for the new president who has vowed to defeat Islamist militant group, al Shabaab. Reuters witnesses saw soldiers - some armed - stopping traffic at several locations including on two major roads and at two junctions. At the K5 junction, unarmed soldiers ordered shops and restaurants to close, and on Maka Al Mukaram, a major street, soldiers blocked traffic with a pickup truck mounted with an anti-aircraft gun.

Captain Ali Osman, a military official told Reuters, that the soldiers were protesting to remind the president of his campaign promise to pay all arrears."He was elected in February and now we are in the middle of March so we conducted a peaceful demo to remind the president of his promise because he has not paid us," Osman said.Mohamed, a colonel who declined to give his second name, told Reuters that about 2,000 soldiers from two military bases, Villa Baidoa and the Ex-petrol Refinery, had come out on strike. "Soldiers from the two bases ... and many other bases in and outside Mogadishu were not paid salary for 15 months," he said.

Military officials say Somalia's army is 40,000 strong in Mogadishu and its surrounding regions. Semi-autonomous regions outside the capital's immediate vicinity pay their own armies.

Non-payment of wages is commonplace, leading to low morale and threatening the fight against Islamist insurgents. http://reut.rs/2mPPIWf

"Soldiers found out that the 15 months pay was missing due to corruption," Nur, a major who declined to give his second name, told Reuters without elaborating.

But, he said, the soldiers had been told they would be paid two months in arrears, and according to Reuters witnesses, the demonstration ended within hours.

Somali soldiers are paid about $100 a month but the United States and Britain, both major funders of efforts to rebuild the army, supplement that with an extra monthly payment of $100. Somalia's new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, was sworn in last month and has promised to crush al Shabaab, which is fighting to topple the central government and rule the Horn of Africa nation according to Islamic law.

Somalia has been mired in violence and lawlessness since early 1990s when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled.

No government spokesman was available to comment.

(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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