UPDATE 3-Somali government declares Islamist rebellion defeated
* Al Qaeda-linked rebels abandon bases in Mogadishu
* Al Shabaab militants say their retreat only tactical
* Some say pullout may be driven by splits within al Shabaab
* Residents out in the streets; say too early to rejoice (Adds analyst)
By Mohamed Ahmed and Ibrahim Mohamed
MOGADISHU, Aug 6 (Reuters) - Somali President Sheikh Sharif Ahmed said on Saturday his military had defeated Islamist rebels battling to overthrow his Western-backed government after the al Shabaab group began withdrawing fighters from the capital Mogadishu.
Rejecting Ahmed's claim to have quashed al Shabaab's four-year insurgency, the militants' spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, said their retreat was tactical only and they were holding their positions elsewhere in the anarchic country.
A 9,000-strong African peacekeeping force and Somali government forces had been steadily wresting control of rubble-strewn Mogadishu from the militants this year. Al Shabaab's pullout followed a string of fierce gun battles late on Friday.
Somalia has been without effective central government since the fall of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre 20 years ago. Continued...