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Two Ethiopian soldiers killed in suicide attack near Somali PM
BAIDOA, Somalia, 10 October 2007 - A suicide bomber rammed a vehicle Wednesday into an Ethiopian army base in Somalia, killing two soldiers, in a bid to assassinate Somalia Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, an official and witnesses said.
Gedi, who was staying in a nearby hotel in the city of Baidoa, was unhurt. Ethiopian troops and Somali forces immediately sealed off the area.
"I can confirm that two Ethiopian forces were killed on the spot and another one was wounded in the attack. The suicide bomber was also killed," Gedi's spokesman Muse Kulow told AFP.
An AFP correspondent said security was intensified and streets were abandoned in the township, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) northwest of the capital Mogadishu.
Five civilians were meanwhile killed as violence pitting Ethiopian-backed government forces against the Islamist insurgency flared across the country, witnesses said.
Three people were killed in Mogadishu and two more died in a roadside bomb attack against an Ethiopian officer in the southern coastal town of Kismayo where nine other people were wounded.
The suicide bomb attack came one day after a battle-hardened Islamist insurgent commander called for a jihad "holy war" against the government which has failed to expand its tenuous control across the nation.
"The Ethiopian compound was hit by a suicide car (bomber) who directly drove into the compound," said an officer in Gedi's security service, asking not to be named.
"The blast was so heavy, it shook the hotel but the prime minister and his staff are safe," said the officer, referring to the Peking Hotel, where Gedi has set up his headquarters whilst in the town.
An Islamic movement that lost control of much of central and south Somalia after Ethiopia's military moved in last year, claimed responsibility.
"It was our operation," said Sheikh Mukhtar Robow, a radical Islamist leader who recently resurfaced in Mogadishu.
He told AFP "a lot of Ethiopians" were killed in the attack but gave no other details.
In November last year, a suicide bomber targeting President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed killed at least 12 people in Baidoa. In June this year, Gedi escaped a deadly suicide car bomb on his Mogadishu compound, which killed six guards.
Sheikh Mukhtar -- also known as Abu Mansur since he trained in Afghanistan and fought alongside the Taliban in the early 2000s -- presented himself as "a spokesman for the Islamic movement" in Mogadishu although although he has an history of commanding numerous militia fighters over the past decade.
On Tuesday, he called for jihad against what he called Ethiopia's bid to colonise Somalia and convert people to Christianity, saying the insurgency will only end when Islamic Sharia law is imposed on Somalia.
Baidoa is where the parliament is based and Gedi was in the town with aides ahead of a vote of confidence in his government expected in the next few days.
Gedi is increasingly at odds with the president in the country, where the transitional administration is propped up by Ethiopian forces.
Since Islamists militants were defeated early this year, their fighters have carried out a string of guerrilla attacks in Mogadishu, targeting government officials, Ethiopian troops and African Union peacekeepers.
The violence comes against a tense political backdrop after a clan reconciliation conference in August failed to surmount bitter divisions.
The troubled Horn of Africa country has had no consistent central authority since former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled in 1991, touching off a deadly power struggle that has defied numerous internationally-backed peace initiatives.