Fresh fighting in Mogadishu after suicide attack Eds: Updates death toll

Fresh fighting in Mogadishu after suicide attack Eds: Updates death toll

Fresh fighting between insurgents and government forces broke out in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Wednesday, a day after a suicide attack on a hotel killed dozens, including four lawmakers, DPA reported.

Witnesses said at least six people were killed as militant Islamist group al-Shabaab, which is battling to oust the weak Western-backed government, exchanged mortar fire with African Union- backed government forces.

Fighting had died down by late afternoon, and both sides issued conflicting claims about their military successes.

Al-Shabaab said it had seized several government positions, while the AU peacekeeping force said it had beaten off the attacks.

On Tuesday, insurgents dressed as government security forces opened fire on guests in the Muna Hotel, which lies in one of the few government-controlled areas in Mogadishu, before detonating suicide vests.

Somalia's Information Ministry revised the death toll on Wednesday, after initially announcing six lawmakers were among 31 people killed.

Four MPs were killed while five were injured, the ministry said in a statement. Another 29 people - guests, hotel staff and bodyguards - were killed in the suicide attack, the ministry said.

"The extremists who took their lives seek to terrorize us all and stop us from living normal lives and pursuing the right path to a peaceful and unified future," the speaker of the Somali parliament, Abdiweli Sheik Ibrahim Mudey, said as he released the names of the four dead lawmakers.

The United Nations, African Union and European Union all condemned the attack, which came as part of a renewed offensive by the al-Qaeda linked militants.

At least 29 people died Monday in fighting, which followed al-Shabaab's announcement it was launching a "final war" on the government and African Union peacekeepers.

Approximately 6,000 peacekeepers from Uganda and Burundi are propping up the weak Western-backed government in Somalia, although deployment of an extra 2,000 troops pledged by East African grouping IGAD has begun.

Analysts say that the insurgent push may be in response to the troop surge.

"I think that what's happening is that al-Shabaab is trying to strike before AMISOM (peacekeeping mission) reinforces its positions," EJ Hogendoorn, Horn of Africa Project Director with the International Crisis Group, told the German Press Agency dpa.

Ugandan army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Felix Kulayigye said the renewed violence would not change plans to deploy more peacekeepers.

"We are following the original programme of IGAD, which decided that we send more troops to Somalia," he told dpa. "These attacks will not affect us. We are comfortable handling the situation."

Uganda is keen to send more soldiers to Somalia after al-Shabaab bombed Uganda's capital Kampala - its first attack on foreign soil - in July, killing 76.

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

News of the violence also reached the Vatican in Rome, with Pope Benedict XVI appealing to the international community to "spare no effort" to help safeguard lives and the respect of human rights in Somalia.

"My thoughts go to Mogadishu, from where news of brutal violence continues to reach us and which yesterday was the theatre of a new bloodshed," the pope said during his traditional mid-week address from his summer residence of Castel Gandolfo, near Rome.

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

The current insurgency, which has claimed more than 21,000 lives, kicked off in early 2007, following Ethiopia's invasion to oust the ruling Islamist regime.

Over one million Somalis have fled their homes to live in camps with the Horn of Africa nation and neighbouring states.

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, the AU says.

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