Somali president leads troops in anniversary battle

Somalia's President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed is on the front line, as fierce battles rage on the day the country marks 50 years of independence.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC that the president was dressed in military fatigues atop an African Union tank.

The president warned before the anniversary that Somalia was in danger of perishing as a nation.

Government troops, backed by African peacekeepers, are battling Islamist militants who control most of Somalia.

Image caption It is the first time the president has gone to the front to lead an attack

A moderate Islamist, President Ahmed was elected by MPs to head Somalia's fragile transitional government 18 months ago.

The country has been riven by conflict since President Siad Barre was overthrown in 1991.

The BBC's Mohamed Moalimuu in the capital, Mogadishu, says it is the first time the president has gone to the front line to lead an attack.

The government offensive follows two days of battles as fighters from the hardline Islamist al-Shabab group and their allies tried to regain recently lost ground in the north of the city.

Our reporter says the government forces began shelling the Islamist stronghold of Karan, a residential area, on Wednesday evening.

Hospital officials say so far eight people have been killed and 82 injured in Thursday's fighting.

Programmes banned

As the battles raged on Wednesday, an Islamist Hizbul-Islam group allied to al-Shabab in Mogadishu, ordered radio stations not to broadcast programmes to mark the 50th anniversary.

In April, it also banned them from playing music as it said songs were un-Islamic.

Our reporter says that most stations have complied with the anniversary ban, except a government station and privately owned Radio Shabelle, which has recently moved to a government-controlled area of the city.

Meanwhile, an explosion was reported at 0930 local time (0630 GMT) in a room in the presidency used for press conferences.

The area was decorated for the anniversary celebrations with flowers and Somali flags.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC it caused considerable damage to the area where VIPs usually sit.

Officials say no-one was injured in the blast.

In the last month, several ministers have resigned from the UN-backed government amid charges that it has been ineffective.

The president's introduction of Sharia law to the Muslim country has done little to appease the Islamist militias fighting the government.

Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes in two decades of conflict that has created one of the world's worst humanitarian emergencies.

Somalia was formed 50 years ago on 1 July 1960, when the Italian-administered southern part of the country joined the northern region, which had gained independence from Britain five days earlier.

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