21 killed, 78 wounded in fighting in Somali capital between insurgents, pro-government forces

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Heavy fighting between Islamist militants and pro-government troops raged in several parts of Somalia's capital Thursday, killing at least 21 people and wounding nearly 78, an official said.

Mortar shells pounded northern and southern neighborhoods in Mogadishu as militants launched attacks with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns, according to a witness.

In Mogadishu's south, government soldiers and African Union peacekeepers tried to push insurgents back from a strategic road often used by government officials.

Ali Muse, the head of the city's ambulance service, said at least 21 had been killed and 78 wounded.

Somalia's most dangerous militant group, al-Shabab, has launched a series of attacks over the last month after declaring a "new" war against the Somali government. There are 7,100 African Union peacekeepers stationed in Mogadishu that protect the small enclave where the weak, U.N.-backed Somali government operates.

The country hasn't had a functioning government since 1991, and the militants hope to overthrow the transitional government and install a harsh brand of Islam across the country.