Page last updated at 22:14 GMT, Monday, 12 January 2009

Deadly clashes in Somali capital

Islamist fighter in Mogadishu (12.1.09)
Islamist militia groups now control much of southern Somalia

At least 10 people have died in clashes between Somali government troops and Islamic insurgents in the capital Mogadishu, reports say.

Rebels shelled the presidential palace where Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein was meeting African Union peacekeepers, a government spokesman said.

Government forces retaliated by firing mortars which struck a crowded market and residential area, witnesses say.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991.

Reports say that most of the casualties occurred in and around the city's Bakara market.

"Several mortar shells fired from the Somali government positions struck Bakara market and eight civilians died in one place while nine others were wounded," trader Bashir Muktar told AFP news agency.

Another witness, Ahmed Abdullahi, described the scene as "horrific".

Ambulance and health officials reported many people had been injured in the mortar attack on the market.

Rival groups

Government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon said no-one at the palace had been hurt.

Insurgents have attacked the palace several times over the past two years but have not killed any senior officials.

The violence follows clashes between rival Islamist militia groups north of Mogadishu which have killed about 30 people and injured more than 30 others.

The fighting in Guriel involved the hardline group al-Shabaab and a local militia, witnesses said.

Correspondents say that a power vacuum may be opening up as the 3,000-strong Ethiopian force pulls out of Somalia.

Ethiopian troops arrived in Somalia in 2006 to help the interim government oust Islamists from the capital.

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