10 politicians among 42 dead in Somalia clashes (Lead)

August 24th, 2010 - 5:23 pm ICT by IANS  

Mogadishu/Nairobi, Aug 24 (DPA) At least 42 people, including ten lawmakers, have died in fighting in the Somali capital Mogadishu after Islamist insurgents declared “a final war” against African Union (AU) peacekeepers.
Radical Islamist group al-Shabaab is battling to oust the weak Western-backed government, which is penned into small enclaves in Mogadishu protected by around 6,000 AU peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi.

Insurgents dressed in army fatigues Tuesday entered a hotel popular with parliamentarians near the presidential palace and shot dead ten lawmakers.

“Three armed men stormed the hotel and killed 10 members of parliament,” a police official told DPA. “Our troops killed two of the attackers while another committed suicide.”

Fighting broke out Monday after an al-Shabaab spokesman said insurgent forces from across Somalia would take part in a drive to sweep the AU out of Mogadishu.

“I order all Somali Muslims and al-Shabaab forces to wage war and destroy the apostate troops and Christian soldiers in Mogadishu,” Sheikh Ali Mohamoud Rage told reporters in Mogadishu late Monday.

Witnesses said the clashes were the heaviest in months as the two sides clashed with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and automatic weapons.

“As we were coming back from the market in the evening, the battle intensified and a heavy shell slammed down … five women died on the spot,” Rowda Abdullahi Hersi, a shopkeeper in the insurgent stronghold Bakara Market told DPA.

The government accused al-Shabaab of firing mortars into heavily populated areas, saying the group showed a lack of respect for the holy month of Ramadan.

AU troops and government forces are regularly accused of causing heavy civilian casualties by firing at insurgent positions in civilian areas.

“The casualties are increasing minute by minute and the battle is intensifying,” Ali Muse, head of Mogadishu’s ambulance service, said. “So far, we have collected 29 bodies and 97 injured.”

The AU has also vowed to kick al-Shabaab out of Mogadishu with the help of several thousand reinforcements.

The AU’s Deputy Special Representative for Somalia, Wafula Wamunyinyi, told journalists in the Kenyan capital Nairobi Monday that an extra 2,000 troops recently pledged by East African grouping IGAD had begun arriving.

He said an unspecified number of additional troops from Uganda had already been deployed, and that Guinea and Burundi were expected to send more soldiers, although he refused to reveal a timescale of when the deployment would be complete.

Al-Shabaab, which claims links to the Al Qaeda network, recently carried out its first attack outside Somali soil, targeting the Ugandan capital Kampala with twin blasts that killed 76.

The insurgents said they carried out the bombing in retaliation for the actions of Ugandan peacekeepers in Mogadishu.

Somalia has been immersed in chaos since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

The current insurgency, which has claimed more than 20,000 lives, kicked off in early 2007, following Ethiopia’s invasion to oust the ruling Islamist regime.

The ongoing chaos has attracted militants from Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are now as many as 2,000 foreign fighters operating from bases in Somalia, training and financing local militants, Wamunyinyi said.

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