Somalia’s President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is on the front line, as fierce battles rage on the day the country marks 50 years of independence. Eyewitnesses told the BBC that the president was dressed in military fatigues atop an African Union tank. The president warned before the anniversary that Somalia was in danger of perishing as a nation.
Government troops, backed by African peacekeepers, are battling Islamist militants who control most of Somalia. A moderate Islamist, President Ahmed was elected by MPs to head Somalia’s fragile transitional government 18 months ago.
The country has been riven by conflict since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.
The BBC’s Mohamed Moalimuu in the capital, Mogadishu, says it is the first time the president has gone to the front line to lead an attack. The government offensive follows two days of battles as fighters from the hardline Islamist al-Shabab group and their allies tried to regain recently lost ground in the north of the city.
Our reporter says the government forces began shelling the Islamist stronghold of Karan, a residential area, on Wednesday evening.
Hospital officials say so far eight people have been killed and 82 injured in Thursday’s fighting.
Presidency attacked : Meanwhile, an explosion was reported at 0930 local time (0630 GMT) in a room in the presidency used for press conferences. The area was decorated for the anniversary celebrations with flowers and Somali flags.