Heavy fighting kills 2 civilians in Mogadishu

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MOGADISHU, Sep 19 (Reuters) Heavy fighting between insurgents and Somali government troops around Mogadishu's Bakara Market overnight killed at least two civilians, a witness said today.

In the worst violence since the formation of a new opposition alliance, suspected Islamist-led rebels fired assault rifles and rockets at a base housing interim government soldiers in a slum in the centre of the coastal capital.

''The gun battle was going on for at least 40 minutes and the troops continued firing for 20 minutes after the fighting,'' said one local resident, who asked not to be named.

The resident said at least two civilians were killed.

Deputy police spokesman Adulahi Omar Ibrahim told Reuters the attackers were eventually beaten back.

''Five insurgents fired two rockets at the government position and then they fired automatic gunfire,'' he said. ''Backup troops arrived and the insurgents were chased away.'' President Abdullahi Yusuf's administration has faced an insurgency since routing a sharia courts group from Mogadishu at the end of 2006 with the help of thousands of Ethiopian troops.

Several leaders of that Islamist movement, as well as other Somali opposition figures, formed a new umbrella group last week in Eritrea, vowing to wage war on Ethiopian forces in Somalia.

It was not clear how the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia planned to coordinate with insurgents on the street, but analysts said its formation was sure to give them a boost.

Meanwhile, independent media house Shabelle remained off air today after government troops opened fire on its office for more than two hours yesterday, wounding a security guard.

It was just the latest example of bad blood between Yusuf's administration and local broadcasters it has accused in recent months of feeding tensions and supporting insurgents.

Government officials refused to comment on the incident, which came after security forces stormed the Shabelle office on Saturday, briefly detaining and interrogating 18 staff.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), a press watchdog, urged authorities to stop ''terrorising'' the media.

''The terror tactics of government forces are putting the lives of Shabelle Radio journalists at risk,'' Gabriel Baglo, director of the IFJ Africa office, said in a statement.

''It is shocking intimidation that must be stopped.'' REUTERS SG KP1527

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