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Somalia's President Targeted by Mortars

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MOGADISHU, 14 March 2007 - Somalia's president came under mortar attack in his palace Tuesday just hours after moving in, but escaped unharmed in the assault that killed a 12-year-old boy and wounded three of his siblings. Officials said six others were killed in the increasingly violent capital.

Gunbattles raged as insurgents launched their most violent attacks since the interim government took control of Mogadishu at the beginning of the year.

A remote-controlled roadside bomb struck a convoy carrying Mogadishu's deputy mayor, killing two aides and seriously wounding a bodyguard. Deputy Mayor Ibrahim Omar Sabriye was slightly wounded in the leg by the bomb that struck his four-vehicle convoy, said bodyguard Abdikadir Ahmed.

The remote-controlled explosion was a rare tactic for Somalia.

Six mortars were fired at the hilltop palace hours after President Abdullahi Yusuf arrived from the southern stronghold of Baidoa.

Ethiopian tanks quickly sealed off the area and several hundred Ethiopian and government troops created a 160-foot protective cordon around the palace, according to an Associated Press reporter.

Yusuf was unharmed during the 10-minute attack, presidential spokesman Hussein Mohamoud Hussein told the AP.

Abdullah Ahmed said his 12-year-old son was killed by a mortar that missed the palace, and three of his children were wounded

``They were sleeping when the mortar hit us. It is sad to see your children killed in front of you and you can't do anything,'' Ahmed said.

Doctors, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for their safety, said three other people were killed in the attack on the presidential palace, all civilians caught by stray mortars or shrapnel. The doctors said one other civilian died in a shooting. They had no other details.

Somalia's government and troops from neighboring Ethiopia drove out a radical Islamic movement late last year, but the government is now struggling with a growing insurgency and the Ethiopians have started pulling out.

African Union peacekeepers who began arriving last week also have come under attack. The peacekeepers are the first here in more than a decade.

Elsewhere in Mogadishu, Ethiopian troops protecting government installations battled with insurgents, scattering dozens of schoolchildren who were caught in the crossfire as they left classes, witnesses said.

Teacher Mohamed Hussein Abdi said dozens of his young students fled screaming as fighting began near Hoyga Hamar school.

``We had just finished classes when the fighting broke out,'' he told AP. ``When the children heard the gunfire, they just scattered.

``I could not hide myself because I was trying to stop the children running,'' he said.

The gunmen attacked in minibuses and small cars before fleeing. Ethiopian troops used artillery to return fire, Abdi said.

Gunbattles erupted in several locations in the city of 2 million, with insurgents using rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns during the attacks on an Ethiopian military base and a military convoy.

One Ethiopian military truck carrying soldiers was hit by a rocket and caught fire, said witness Shino Moalin Norow, who sells drinking water near the scene.

Three civilians were wounded and taken to a hospital, witnesses said.

The peacekeepers, all from Uganda, are the vanguard of a larger force authorized by the United Nations to help the government assert its authority and to allow Ethiopian forces to leave. Insurgents believed to be the remnants of the Council of Islamic Courts have staged almost daily attacks against the government, its armed forces and the Ethiopians.

Meanwhile at least 42 people, mainly children, have died in the last 24 hours from a suspected cholera outbreak in southern Somalia, doctors said.

More than 240 others have been hospitalized, and doctors fear more deaths because of the lack of proper medical facilities or medicines in the war-ravaged country.

Somalia descended into chaos in 1991, when warlords overthrew a dictator, carved the capital into armed, clan-based camps, and left most of the rest of the country ungoverned. The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help, but has struggled to assert control.

Source: AP

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