Page last updated at 09:35 GMT, Thursday, 22 October 2009 10:35 UK

Shelling 'kills Somali civilians'

A wounded women is helped in Mogadishu, Somalia (22 October 2009)
The shelling targeted Bakara market, where al-Shabab militia patrol

Heavy shelling in Somalia's capital has killed at least 20 people and injured more than 50, witnesses say.

The fighting began when Islamist insurgents fired mortars towards the airport as the president was leaving for a conference in Uganda.

African Union peacekeepers and government troops responded by shelling insurgent strongholds of Mogadishu's main market and residential areas.

An ambulance spokesman told the BBC most of those killed were civilians.

Moderate Islamist President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, who took office earlier this year, is due to attend an African heads of state are meeting in Kampala to sign the first ever convention to protect displaced people.

Bodies on streets

"Three mortars were fired towards the airport as the president was leaving, they hit at perimeter of the airport," said police spokesman Abdulahi Hassan Barrise.

Displaced Somali women in a camp in Bossaso (22 October 2009)
An estimated 1.5 million people are displaced within Somalia

The plane carrying the president was able to take off safely, he said.

The head of Lifeline and Nationlink Ambulance Service said his volunteers had taken more than 55 injured civilians to hospital.

"We have seen at least 20 dead bodies lying in the streets most of them civilians in different areas in Howlwadag, Hodan and Wardhigley districts in the south," Ali Muse told the BBC.

"But we were giving attention to the injured."

Somalia has been wracked by conflict since 1991, when it last had an effective national government.

Islamist militants dominate much of southern and central Somalia, while President Ahmed's UN-backed government runs only parts of the capital.

He has vowed to implement Sharia law but the al-Shabab group, which is accused of links to al-Qaeda, regards the president as a Western puppet.

Some three million people - half the population - need food aid.

And an estimated 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced and living in makeshift camps, while hundreds of thousands of people have fled the country.

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