Armed fighters loyal to Mogadishu's Islamic party ambushed government troops in the city's southern Taleh district, sparking fierce exchanges of fire that killed at least 23 and wounded at least 90.
AFP - Fierce clashes killed at least 23 people Tuesday in Mogadishu as Islamist insurgents marred newly-elected President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed's first days in the Somali capital.
The fighting was the worst in weeks and came two days after a suspected suicide bombing against African Union forces left 11 dead, in the deadliest such attack since the peacekeepers were deployed two years ago.
Heavily armed fighters loyal to Hizb al-Islamiya (Islamic Party) ambushed government troops in Mogadishu's southern Taleh district, sparking a fierce exchanges in which at least 90 civilians were also wounded, witnesses said.
At least 18 civilians and five security forces were killed in the bloody clashes claimed by the Hizb al-Islamiya militia, one of the two main groups in Mogadishu opposed to the government.
Four more civilians died of their injuries in Mogadishu's main Medina hospital, raising an earlier toll of 14, said Ali Ade, the hospital's chief of staff.
Many civilians died in the crossfire or were killed when mortar shells crashed onto their homes, mainly in southern Mogadishu, according to witnesses.
Ade said 77 wounded people were taken for treatment at Medina, while officials in Deynile hospital in the east of Mogadishu said they received 14 injured civilians.
Police officer Colonel Mohamed Abdi claimed victory over the attackers, but added that five members of the security forces had been killed.
"Our police forces were attacked in Taleh area and they defeated the terrorists who attacked them," he told AFP. "We killed many of them and we have lost five men, including three policemen and two soldiers."
Hizb al-Islamiya spokesman Muse Abdi Arale said: "We destroyed armoured vehicles and we killed many of those who are claiming to be government forces."
The group is allied to Eritrea-based Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, a designated terrorist by the United States.
Thousands of civilians have died in the Somali capital over the past two years. Islamist insurgents often launch attacks against police or AU positions from populated areas, sparking deadly retaliatory mortar fire.
Tuesday's fighting was the most intense since Ethiopian troops completed their pullout from Somalia last month.
Mogadishu had enjoyed a relative lull in violence since Sheikh Ahmed was elected on January 31.
After a string of regional consultations which saw the young cleric choose a prime minister and bolster support for a UN-sponsored peace initiative, Sheikh Sharif returned to the war-wracked capital on Monday.
On Sunday, a suspected suicide car bomb ripped through a base of the AU peacekeeping mission's Burundian contingent, killing at least 11 and rattling a force which is supposed to take over security duties from Ethiopia.
Mortar shells were also fired at the presidential palace in Mogadishu on Tuesday, causing no casualties.
Sheikh Sharif was one of the main targets of Ethiopia's 2006 invasion and long remained one of the staunchest opponents of the Somali neighbour's military presence.
As Ethiopia began preparing its withdrawal, he moved to the political centre and signed up to the UN-backed reconciliation process with the former leaders of the transitional federal government.
The influential Islamist leader has pledged to extend a hand to all Somali factions but hardline armed groups have vowed to continue their struggle until the AU pulled out its forces.
Date created : 2009-02-24