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Dozens killed as army tries to rout Islamists from Mogadishu

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Latest update : 2009-05-23

Fresh clashes between Somali government troops and Islamist rebels have led to at least 29 deaths, including that of a local journalist. The military has vowed to chase the rebels from the capital, but witnesses say the army is retreating.

AFP - Fierce clashes Friday left at least 29 people dead and some 200 wounded as Somali government forces tried to drive out Islamist insurgents from the capital Mogadishu, officials and witnesses said.
With President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed holed up in his compound with a handful of supporters, his embattled forces attacked insurgents in three positions they had lost in two weeks of fighting that have killed close to 150 people.
Military spokesman Farhan Mahdi Mohamed vowed they would fight until the insurgents are dislodged from the capital, but witnesses said they saw the troops beating a retreat as their rivals advanced.
Eight passengers were killed when a mortar shell struck a bus in southern Mogadishu.
"The bus was passing in front of my gate when the disaster occured. There was blood and human body parts all around. It was a horrible scene," said Bashir Abdurahman.
A toll compiled by AFP from medical sources, security officials and witnesses put the number of killed in Friday's clashes at 29, including a young local journalist who was caught in crossfire.
"We admitted 10 dead bodies in Deynile hospital, most of them were discovered from the areas of the fierce fighting by the voluntary ambulances late in the afternoon," medic Mohamed Ali told AFP.
"Some of the bodies could not be identified because of gunshots and shrapnel face injuries," a nurse also said.
At Mogadishu's Medina and Keysaney hospitals, medics said they received 117 wounded civilians, five of whom died of their wounds moments after their admission. Six other deaths were reported by witnesses and medics.
The fighting had fizzled out into sporadic gunfire by Friday afternoon, an AFP correspondent reported.
The National Union of Somali Journalists condemned the death of the Radio Shabelle journalist who was killed in the crossfire.
He "was on his way (to the station) when bullets hit him on the chest. His body was lying on the road for about 45 minutes as the militias were shooting at anyone who wanted to take his body," the union said in a statement.
Earlier, the army spokesman said one soldier was wounded and claimed they had regained control of the three areas of the capital -- Tarbunka, Bakara and Howlwadag -- held by the insurgents.
"This is a large military offensive against violent people," he said. "The government will sweep them out of the capital and the fighting will continue until that happens."
But a spokesman for the rebels, who call themselves the Shebab or Party of Youth, denied the claim.
"The enemies of Allah attacked our positions this morning and our fighters are defending themselves. They have not not taken any positions from us," said Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage.
According to aid agencies, two weeks of fierce clashes have displaced 46,000 people from Mogadishu, a city ravaged by 18 years of almost uninterrupted civil conflict and emptied of hundreds of thousands of residents by the violent fighting that erupted following Ethiopia's 2006 invasion.
The Shebab and Hezb al-Islamiya fighters are the main insurgents trying to topple Sharif's internationally-recognised transitional government.
The rebels launched attacks against the government on May 7 and said they had received the support of foreign fighters to wage some of the fiercest clashes Mogadishu has suffered in months.
At a special meeting on Somalia of the African Union's Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa Friday, the continental body urged the United Nations to slap sanctions on Eritrea.
Asmara is accused of supporting radical insurgents and of playing a role in the latest offensive and helping radical Islamist leader Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys remove his former ally Sharif from power.
The Horn of Africa nation has not had a central government since the ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 which set off a bloody cycle of clashes between rival factions.

Date created : 2009-05-23