KISMAYO, Somalia (AP) – A march that drew thousands in support of peacekeepers ended in violence Sunday when an explosion went off as the army chief prepared to address the rally and government troops fired into the crowd in response. At least five people were killed.

Thousands had marched through Kismayo, 260 miles southwest of the capital, Mogadishu, to support a proposed peacekeeping mission for Somalia.

“Somali people need the help of Africans,” they chanted. “Somalia’s stability needs to be restored.”

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion, which happened as Army Chief Gen. Abdi Mahdi was to address the rally at the city’s Freedom Park.

Government troops fired into the crowd and then opened fire on the streets of Kismayo, but it was not clear whom they were targeting.

Ethiopian and Somali government troops sealed off the park after the explosion.

An Associated Press reporter saw two dead at Freedom Park, but it was not clear whether they died in the explosion or from gunfire. An Associated Press reporter counted at least 22 wounded at Kismayo’s general hospital.

Col. Abdirazaq Af Gudud, a senior army official who did not take part in the rally, said three soldiers died in the explosion.

The army chief was among the wounded, said Gudud. Five other officials also were injured, including the commander of the Somali national army’s 3rd Battalion and the police chief for southwestern Somalia.

Kismayo, Somalia’s third-largest city, was the last major city held by the radical Islamic movement that took over much of the country’s south last year before being forced out by Somali government troops and Ethiopian forces in December and January.

The African Union has proposed a peacekeeping mission to help Somalia’s struggling transitional government stabilize Somalia, particularly after Ethiopia withdraws its forces.

The Islamic movement, which still has support in Mogadishu, has vowed to wage an Iraq-style insurgency, and attacks in the capital have happened nearly daily over the past month.

Late Saturday, troops fought gunmen at a key government building in Mogadishu, said Mohamed Iyow Gedi, a witness to the fighting. Five people were wounded, staff at Medina Hospital said.

Hours after the gunbattle at Villa Baidoa, government soldiers sealed off the area around the building and went house to house Sunday searching for suspects, witnesses said.

Earlier Saturday, two areas of Mogadishu were hit by mortar attacks that killed at least five people and wounded 10, witnesses said.

Deputy Defense Minister Salad Ali Jelle said the attacks was the work of remnants of the Islamic movement.

During a pro-Islamist rally Friday, a masked man who gave his name only as Abdirisaq said his group, the Popular Resistance Movement in the Land of the Two Migrations, was responsible for attacks on government buildings and Ethiopian troops.

Somalia has not had an effective national government since 1991, when warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on one another, throwing the country into anarchy. The transitional government was formed in 2004 with U.N. help.

Associated Press writers Mohamed Olad Hassan and Salad Duhul in Mogadishu contributed to this report.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Daily Headlines

  • Sign up and get the top stories to begin the day delivered to your inbox at 6 a.m.