Muslim fighters have increased attacks in the
Somali capital in recent weeks [Reuters]

Several people have been killed in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, after anti-government fighters fired mortars at the presidential palace where Abdullahi Yusuf, the Somali president, was meeting a senior Ethiopian official.

Some reports quoted witnesses as saying that six civilians were killed on Saturday in Mogadhishu's Bakara market area by return fire from Somali and Ethiopian soldiers.

But the AFP news agency quoted other witnesses as saying that 10 people were killed and several others wounded in the incident.

An AFP correspondent saw the bodies of three people who were killed when an artillery shell struck the Bakara market.

Witnesses reported five other deaths in the same incident, AFP said.

A security staff member at the presidential palace said Yusuf and Seyoum Mesfin, the Ethiopian foreign affairs minister, were unharmed.

"Several mortars landed in the palace area and there were not any casualties," Bahuko Baridye, a spokesman for the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, told AFP.

The spokesman could not confirm that Seyoum was inside the  compound at the time of the attack.

Ethiopia is Yusuf's principal ally.

Seyoum's visit had not been previously announced.

Abdi Haji Gobdon, a government spokesman, declined to comment on the attack.

The official website of the anti-government Islamic Courts' Union military wing  said seven mortar shells had been fired at the palace, targeting Yusuf and Seyoum.

Ethiopian forces have been in Mogadishu since December 2006 when they helped Somalia's UN-backed government drive away the Islamic Courts' Union, which had controlled much of southern Somalia and Mogadishu for six months.

Source: Agencies