Seven killed in blasts at Somali parliament

Baidoa, Somalia - At least seven people were killed on Monday when two powerful blasts rocked Somalia's parliament building in a suspected assassination attempt against the country's interim president.

Somali Foreign Minister Ismail Mohamed Hurre said the blasts, at least one of which came from a car bomb, were an apparent attempt to assassinate the president and destabilise the weak government.

President President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed was unhurt by the explosions that took place as he drove away from the building in a convoy shortly after delivering a speech, officials and witnesses said.

"This was an attack aimed at assassinating the president to destabilise the government," Hurre said in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi where he is on a visit.

In Baidoa, the temporary seat of the Somali transitional government about 250km north-west of Mogadishu, medical sources said seven people had been confirmed dead and several seriously injured.

"At least seven people were killed and several others critically wounded by the explosion," said Mohamed Sharif, a nurse at Baidoa's main hospital.

He told AFP that the dead included several parliamentary security guards.

The first explosion from a car bomb sent a huge ball of flame into the sky and destroyed numerous vehicles parked in front of the parliament building, a converted warehouse, witnesses said.

"I saw a white car explode in front of the parliament, demolishing seven other cars nearby," witness Sahad Mohamed Abukar has said. "There were screams everywhere."

A second blast occurred about 15 minutes after the first, witnesses said.

Suleiman Olad Robleh, a member of parliament, said no one inside the building had been injured.

"Neither the president nor any lawmakers were wounded," he said by phone from inside the legislature. "The president has been taken by his bodyguards from the parliament to the presidential palace.

"We are safe inside the hall, but there are some casualties out there," Robleh said.

Yusuf was expected on Monday to ask parliament to approve a new cabinet to shore up the largely powerless government that has been seriously challenged by the rise of an Islamist movement.

The Islamists pose an increasingly strong threat to the limited authority of the government, the latest of more than a dozen international attempts to restore a functional central authority to the lawless country.

Since seizing Mogadisghu from warlords in June, Islamist militia have rapidly expanded their territory to include much of southern Somalia and begun enforcing strict Sharia law.

Despite an interim peace accord reached earlier this month between the Islamists and the government, the two sides are deeply divided over several key issues, including the proposed deployment of a regional peacekeeping force.

The Islamists have vowed to fight foreign troops if they are sent to Somalia to support Yusuf's government by the seven-member east African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

Hurre declined to speculate as to who was behind the Baidoa bomb blasts but suggested they were probably linked to the proposed peacekeeping mission.

"I am not accusing anybody at this stage, but there were some people who were claiming to fight IGAD and Somalia is part of IGAD," he said.

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