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Dozens killed as army tries to rout Islamists from Mogadishu

Video by Catherine VIETTE

Latest update : 2009-05-23

Residents fled Mogadishu on Saturday, following a pre-dawn offensive on Friday to try to drive Islamist rebels from their Mogadishu strongholds, which resulted in dozens of deaths.

AFP - Terrified residents fled the Somali capital on Saturday, following a day of fierce fighting between government forces and Islamist hardline rebels that left at least 31 people dead.
   
Most of those killed in Friday's exchanges were civilians trapped in the crossfire or claimed by mortars. As soon as things calmed down many inhabitants packed up what they could and left Mogadishu.
   
"The city is quiet this (Saturday) morning and many people are fleeing to avoid upcoming attacks, I think the government is planning a further offensive," said Somali police officer Colonel Mohamed Adan.
   
A witness, Abdulahi Warsameh, corroborated his information, saying, "Many residents have emptied their houses in (the) Wardhigley (district) because they fear new clashes."
   
Government forces encountered Friday fierce resistance as they tried unsuccessfully to drive the Islamist insurgents from the capital.
   
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 now killed close to 150 people.
   
A toll compiled late Friday by AFP from medical sources, security officials and witnesses put the number of killed in the latest clashes at 29, including a young local journalist who was caught in crossfire.
   
A resident on Saturday provided new information pushing up the toll. "We found the dead bodies of two civilians in the contested areas; they were caught in the cross-fire," said Mubarak Hassan.
   
Aid agencies said on Wednesday that the first 12 days of clashes had displaced 46,000 people from Mogadishu.
   
The Somali capital has been ravaged by 18 years of almost uninterrupted civil conflict and emptied of hundreds of thousands of residents by the violent fighting that followed 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 worst clashes Mogadishu has suffered in months.
   
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

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