15 die in Somalia as parliament demands gov't vote

Published September 16, 2010

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) -- Mortar rounds fired by suspected Islamist insurgents crashed into Somalia's government complex on Thursday, killing three government soldiers, wounding a member of parliament and triggering a counterattack that killed a dozen more people.

The attack happened while parliament was in session to pass a motion asking leaders of the shaky government to appear within three days for a vote of confidence.

One member of parliament was wounded in the face and five government troops were also hurt. Government and African Union troops responded by firing mortars into the main Bakara Market. At least 12 people were killed and 40 were wounded there, said Ali Muse, the head of Mogadishu's ambulance service. Among them was a little boy. He lay limply in his older brother's arms as he was rushed into a hospital.

In a hospital run by Burundian peacekeepers, small children flinched as AU and government troops nearby fired their own mortars.

"We need peace so badly," said 17-year-old year old Kalima Abdi, who lay under a blue mosquito net. "The fighting is too much."

Abdi was paralyzed a month ago by a mortar that was fired at an African Union base but landed on her house, killing her seven brothers and sisters.

The legislators accuse Somalia's transitional government of failing to perform its duties, including trying to foster peace between the country's warring factions and increasing humanitarian efforts. A long-running feud between Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke has flared again in recent days. Last May Ahmed fired Sharmarke but reversed the decision days later.

The latest rift appears to be about the country's draft constitution, an initiative backed by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. The prime minister wants the document passed by parliament and civil society representatives while the president wants it put to a referendum.

The new top U.N. envoy to Somalia, Augustine P. Mahiga, told the Security Council at United Nations headquarters in New York on Thursday that a plan to add another 2,000 peacekeeping troops should be "speedily implemented" to bring the force up to its approved level of 8,000.

"Experience in Somalia has shown that the more delayed or inadequate the response is, the more complex the crisis becomes," Mahiga told the 15-member body. "We have to act in a comprehensive manner to address these complex challenges. "

Somalia hasn't had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew the president. The country's most dangerous militant group, the al-Qaida linked al-Shabab, has increased attacks on the government complex and is believed responsible for Thursday's attack. The militants who control much of this Horn of Africa country want to overthrow the government and install a conservative brand of Islam across the country.

Critics accuse the president of wanting to remain in office beyond his term's expiration next August. If he succeeds in dumping the prime minister, that could kill the draft constitution and possibly extend his term.

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Associated Press reporter Mohamed Olad Hassan in Mogadishu, Somalia and Malkhadir M. Muhumed in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.

Written by <P class="ap-story-p">By KATHARINE HOURELD, Associated Press Writer</P>

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