Third straight day of fighting in Somalia kills 8; 80 killed since al-Shabab war declaration

MOGADISHU, Somalia (AP) — Fighting in Somalia's capital flared for a third straight day Wednesday, killing eight people and pushing the week's death toll past 80 as insurgents tried to force government troops back toward the presidential palace, officials said.

Mortar and rocket fire forced residents to flee and closed businesses. Fighting between al-Shabab militants and government and African Union forces has been fierce ever since the al-Qaida-linked militant group declared a new "massive" war against African Union troops on Monday.

"They attacked us last night in large numbers with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and mortars, trying to run over us and seize the Mecca-Almukara strategic road," said Sheikh Osman, a militia commander allied with the government. "For military tactics we initially retreated overnight, and this morning as we received reinforcements we repulsed them."

The fighting has forced hundreds of people from their homes. Women, children and the elderly could be seen fleeing the warfare Wednesday. African Union tanks were in the streets to support the government soldiers.

"The fighting is heavier than how it was for the last two days. This time there is a strong shelling," said resident Aden Gedi.

At least eight people were killed in the latest fighting, said Ali Muse, who is in charge of the city's ambulance service. Forty people were reported killed on Monday, while a militant attack on a Mogadishu hotel on Tuesday killed 34, including two militants.

"I am in shock. I cannot talk to you. A mortar landed on my house. Allah saved me and I ran out with my kids. I do not know where I am going, just running for safety," Halima Abdiyow, a mother of six, said.

On Tuesday militants attacked a hotel in the small area nominally controlled by the weak Somali government. Gunfire and a suicide explosion killed 32 people. The Somali government originally said six members of parliament were among the dead, but on Wednesday officials revised that number down to four and blamed a mix-up during the counting of bodies.

The Somali government has struggled for years to gain relevancy, but corruption and its minuscule footprint in the country — just a few city blocks near the seaside airport — have limited its effectiveness. It is propped up by 6,000 African Union troops from Uganda and Burundi. Without those troops the government would quickly collapse.

Somalia hasn't had a functioning government since 1991, when warlords overthrew the president.