Somali rebels attack parliament, 11 dead

May 17, 2010 12:00 am

, MOGADISHU, May 17 – Islamist rebels shelled Somalia\’s newly rebuilt parliament in Mogadishu on Sunday, sparking clashes with government forces and African Union peacekeepers that left 11 civilians dead, officials said.

The violence came as political turmoil erupted inside parliament itself, with many of the war-wracked nation\’s MPs voting to sack the speaker after he called for the president to sack the prime minister.

Hardline Shebab militants, who are linked to Al-Qaeda, opened fire with mortars in the direction of the recently renovated parliament building, which was preparing to host a session for the first time in 20 years.

Government troops and forces from the African Union retaliated with heavy artillery and mortars towards the city\’s southern Bakara area, one of the main rebel strongholds, officials and medical sources said.

"Several artillery salvos and mortars hit Bakara market. Eleven civilians were killed and 52 wounded," Ali Muse, head of the Mogadishu ambulance service, told AFP.

"The terrorists tried to attack the parliament building but the government forces defeated them and many of their fighters were killed in the clashes," Ali Hassan, a government security official, told AFP.

The building did not appear to have been hit by the militant shelling.

Meanwhile, in parliament, speaker Sheik Adan Mohamed Nur said that the government had lost the confidence of legislators and added that he had "therefore asked the president to name a new prime minister."

But his move sparked an uproar, and after the militant attack around 320 MPs met at a hotel in the capital to vote on ousting the speaker and finding a new one.

Most Somali deputies live abroad, mainly in neighbouring Kenya, for security reasons and the parliament meets only very rarely.

Somalia has been wracked by civil war since 1991.

Its current, Western-backed government led by President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed has waged near-daily battles with Islamist rebels for control of the seaside city of Mogadishu for the past year.

The Shebab, whose leadership has proclaimed allegiance to Osama bin Laden\’s Al-Qaeda network, control 80 percent of southern and central Somalia and have vowed to overthrow the government and force out the AU peacekeepers.

Ahmed and his internationally-backed administration are confined to a few blocks in Mogadishu, under the protection of AU forces.

The Shebab was the youth wing of an Islamist movement, the Islamic Courts Union, that ruled Somalia in 2006 until they were defeated by Ethiopian forces.

Remnants of the ICU fought on against the Ethiopians, who pulled out in January 2009, and then turned their fire on the transitional government.


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