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Bloody Somalia battle in 2nd day

Story Highlights

• Fierce fighting rages in Somali capital for second day
• Corpses dragged, also set on fire
• Scene recalls 1993 shooting-down of a U.S. Black Hawk copter by warlords
• At least 20 people killed, 56 wounded in Wednesday fighting
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MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) -- Fierce fighting raged in the Somali capital for a second day as government forces battled insurgents determined to oust Ethiopian-backed interim President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.

The heaviest exchanges were reported in northeastern Mogadishu -- an area where government and Ethiopian forces occupy an army base. The battle had subsided by Thursday afternoon after a pitched morning battle.

At a news conference inside the presidential palace, Deputy Defense Minister Salad Alijeele blamed the fighting on what he called "terrorists," including al Qaeda agents. He pledged the Somali government would defeat them.

Residents said people were fleeing the capital by the hundreds, with their belongings in tow.

In fighting Wednesday, Somali insurgents dragged government soldiers through the streets of the capital after killing them in battle. (Watch a soldier's body being dragged through the street, as civilian casualties also mount Video)

Journalists who witnessed the deaths said at least 20 people were killed in the fray.

The insurgents have been angered by the participation of Ethiopian soldiers in the fighting, which has been sporadic since the Ethiopian troops arrived in December. Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had promised his forces would withdraw within weeks.

The battles in the capital began about 6 a.m., when insurgents and government troops clashed near a base that houses Ethiopian soldiers in the Medina district, in the southern part of the city.

The Ethiopians fired rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

About 300 government soldiers were involved in the fighting, which also spread to the north, where it continued on Thursday.

At least 56 people were wounded in Wednesday's citywide fighting and were taken to Medina Hospital, sources there said.

Journalist Aweys Osman Yusuf of Radio Shabelle said it was hard to determine how many of the dead and wounded were soldiers and how many were civilians.

Insurgents dragged several dead soldiers, possibly including Ethiopians, through the streets, where some of the bodies were burned. Yusuf said a car dropped one body off near the Radio Shabelle offices, and it was burned by bystanders. The body was said to be that of an Ethiopian, he said.

The government has said 4,000 soldiers are positioned around the city. According to Yusuf, Wednesday's fighting lasted longer than usual.

Many of the insurgents belong to a militant Islamic group that took over much of southern Somalia until pushed out in late 2006 and early 2007 by Ethiopian-backed Somali troops.

Wednesday's fighting stopped about midday, but "still the situation in Mogadishu is tense," Yusuf said. "No more buses are running in Mogadishu. Businesses have been closed down. The airport and seaport are heavily guarded by government soldiers."

Also Wednesday, Somali Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi called a news conference at the airport. When journalists arrived, they were seized by government soldiers. A reporter and his driver from Radio Shabelle were among those taken away. The government had no comment on the action.

The practice of dragging bodies through the streets is reminiscent of what occurred when Somali militiamen shot down a U.S. Black Hawk helicopter in 1993 during a failed U.S. attempt to capture a warlord.

The images of American troops being dragged through the streets led to the withdrawal of U.N. forces and years of anarchy in Somalia.

In March, about 400 Ugandan peacekeeping forces arrived in Mogadishu as part of the first contingent of the African Union Mission in Somalia -- AMISOM, in U.N. parlance -- charged with helping the war-torn country rebuild. Ugandans have not been involved in the fighting, but have provided security to public facilities such as the port.

In January, the United States sent AC-130 gunships on a mission to attack suspected al Qaeda members in southern Somalia.

Journalist Mohammed Amiin contributed to this story.

Ethiopian Army soldiers smile as they ride a truck leaving the Presidential palace in southern Mogadishu.


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