Red Cross official says Somalis swamping hospitals during violent clashes in capital

GENEVA (AP) — Eight days of deadly clashes between government forces and al-Qaida-linked insurgents have forced dozens of people to seek surgical care and left Somalia's capital in a critical state, the international Red Cross said Tuesday.

The fighting in Mogadishu started Aug. 23 and has already killed more than 70 civilians, while wounding hundreds more.

Islamist insurgent movement Al-Shabab, which controls much of central and southern Somalia, is trying to overthrow the weak, U.N.-backed Somali government and install a harsh brand of Islam across the country.

Benjamin Wahren, the International Committee of the Red Cross' deputy aid chief for the Horn of Africa, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that he didn't see how the situation "could worsen at the moment."

The number of people seeking surgical help at two city hospitals has reached at least 200 during the fighting, he said.

Almost 7,000 troops from the African Union protect Somalia's government. Without those troops in place, that government would likely fall within hours. A mortar fired by the insurgents slammed into Somalia's presidential palace Monday, killing four Ugandan peacekeepers.

Wahren said the Red Cross will try to keep working in Somalia no matter who is in charge.

"Our assistance goes to the people affected by the fighting, not to the government," he said. "The government doesn't control much physical territory and we work all over the country."

Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years. The current administration is hampered by corruption, and its minuscule footprint in the country — just a few city blocks near the seaside airport and the airport itself — have limited its effectiveness.

Al-Shabab boasts veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars among its ranks, and it has grown deadlier in recent months. In July, it claimed twin bombings in Uganda during the World Cup final, killing 76 people.