MOGADISHU, Somalia – Mortars slammed into a busy market in Somalia’s capital Tuesday, witnesses said, as the country’s weak government crumbled and the impending pullout of allied Ethiopian troops raised fears that Islamic insurgents might seize the opportunity to take over.
At least 10 people were killed in the market attack, witnesses said.
The fighting began after Islamic insurgents attacked bases of government soldiers and African Union peacekeepers, said Salado Mohamed Farah, a shop owner at Bakara market. He said mortars fired in retaliation hit the market, which the government has accused the insurgents of using as a base.
“There is blood everywhere,” Farah told the Associated Press. “The mortars fell as people were busy shopping.”
The bloodshed – so common in this lawless nation in the Horn of Africa – adds to the deepening political crisis. Ethiopian troops who are propping up Somalia’s government will leave the country within days despite the turmoil caused by the resignation of the Somali president on Monday, an official said Tuesday.
Wahide Belay, a spokesman for the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said he did not want to discuss a specific date for the departure, which many fear will create a power vacuum and allow Islamist insurgents to take over Somalia.
“We are leaving at the end of December,” Belay said. “Give or take a couple of days.” The plan to pull the troops from Somalia had been announced earlier. Belay’s statement was confirmation that the withdrawal will proceed in spite of the fresh political uncertainty.
During President Abdullahi Yusuf’s four-year term, his Western-backed government failed to extend its power throughout the country, which is crippled by infighting and a strengthening Islamist insurgency.
Yusuf’s resignation could usher in more chaos as Islamic militants scramble for power.
The U.S. State Department supported Yusuf’s decision to resign and praised his efforts to bring stability to Somalia.