(Updates with death toll from al Shabaab, details of separate blast)
By Abdi Sheikh
MOGADISHU, March 23 (Reuters) – Somalia’s al Shabaab stormed a government building on Saturday, detonating a suicide car bomb in the heart of the capital Mogadishu with at least 15 people, including an assistant minister, killed during the ensuing gun battle.
In the latest bombing claimed by al Shabaab, an Islamist group which is fighting to establish its own rule in Somalia, based on a strict interpretation of sharia law, a huge explosion shook central Mogadishu and a large plume of smoke rose above a building housing Somalia’s ministries of labour and works.
Police later said the fighting at the building had ended and that the premises had been completely secured.
“The building was secured by security forces. The four militants who attacked the building were shot dead. Another militant was a suicide car bomber and so he also died,” Major Ali Abdullahi, a police officer told Reuters.
Abdullahi said ten people, including assistant labour minister Saqar Ibrahim Abdala and police personnel, had died.
Police said earlier that some 20 people had been injured in the assault, which began when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb, allowing other militants to storm the building.
TRAPPED BY GUNFIRE
Dr. Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of Amin Ambulance Service told Reuters soon after the assault began that people were trapped inside the building and that it was not possible to rescue them because of a heavy exchange of fire.
Al Shabaab told Reuters one of its fighters had rammed the ministry building with a car bomb allowing others to enter.
Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operation spokesman later said he understood 20 people had been killed.
In a separate assault on Saturday, Abu Musab said al Shabaab had exploded a roadside bomb at a security checkpoint in Mogadishu that killed three government soldiers and also injured a local lawmaker and three of his bodyguards.
Police confirmed the roadside bomb attack but said two civilians and one soldier had been killed by the blast while a local lawmaker from one of Somalia’s federal states was injured.
Al Shabaab, which is trying to topple Somalia’s western backed central government, was ejected from Mogadishu in 2011 and has since been driven from most of its other strongholds.
But it remains a threat, with its fighters frequently carrying out bombings in Somalia and neighbouring Kenya, whose troops form part of the African Union mandated peacekeeping force AMISOM that helps defend Somalia’s central government. (Additional reporting by Feisal Omar; writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Louise Heavens and Alexander Smith)
(Clarifies in first paragraph that Modjo port covered by separate letter of intent with ESLSE)
ADDIS ABABA, March 13 (Reuters) – France’s CMA CGM has signed a letter of intent to form a joint venture with Ethiopian company MACCFA, as well as a letter of intent with ESLSE to manage Ethiopia’s Modjo port, according to a document made available by the French President’s office.
Marseille-based CMA CGM, one of the world’s largest container shipping lines, recently became the core shareholder in Ceva Logistics, with the company looking to expand in non-maritime freight services. (Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)
* Visits ex-French colony Djibouti in Horn of Africa
* Says major Chinese investment in Africa has big catches
* China has poured funds into development in Djibouti
* France “very late, has no money” for Djibouti -official
* (Adds Macron, Djibouti official quotes)
By John Irish
DJIBOUTI, March 12 (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Tuesday of risks to the sovereignty of African countries from China’s increasing economic presence as he began a visit to the east of the continent.
Macron arrived in Djibouti looking to reassert French influence in a former colony on the Horn of Africa where China has built a military base and invested billions of dollars in infrastructure.
The French leader, who will also visit Kenya and Ethiopia on his current tour, cautioned that conditions attached to Chinese loans could be dangerous in the long term.
“China is a great world power and has expanded its presence in many countries, especially in Africa, in recent years,” he said alongside Djibouti President Ismail mar Guelleh. “But what can look good in the short term … can often end up being bad over the medium to long term.
“I wouldn’t want a new generation of international investments to encroach on our historical partners’ sovereignty or weaken their economies,” Macron added.
China said in September last year it was helping Africa develop, not pile up debt, as the government pledged $60 billion to African nations and rejected criticism it is loading the continent with an unsustainable burden.
Djibouti is strategically located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal. It hosts France’s largest naval base in Africa with 1,400 French personnel used to train African troops and monitor the Horn of Africa and Yemen.
While Djibouti was regarded as a key French outpost in the past, Macron is only the second French leader to visit the tiny country of 1 million people in the last 20 years.
In a reminder of Beijing’s growing presence, Macron was received at Djibouti’s new Chinese-built presidential palace.
“Business is business. The Chinese invest here, while the French aren’t competitive,” a Djibouti government official said. “The French are late, very late. And they have no money.”
Djibouti’s president accused France in 2015 of abandoning Djibouti and investing very little there.
Macron said French firms were ready to invest in Djibouti for the long term but a better business environment was needed to shore up the country’s attractiveness to investors.
No commercial deals were signed during his visit.
“France considered Djibouti for too long to be a territory that was won,” said a senior French diplomat based in the region. “But now the competition from China is fierce.”
Djibouti also has a U.S. military base used as a launchpad for operations against Islamist militants in Yemen and Somalia, but in 2013 China opened its largest overseas military base in the country, rivalling those of Paris and Washington.
Beijing has provided financial aid, developed industrial output in Djibouti and poured investment into infrastructure projects, including upgrading a French railway built in 1917 linking Djibouti to Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.
Chinese state banks have funded an infrastructure building spree across Africa. Many African leaders praise the Chinese for being willing to fund desperately needed projects to help kickstart their economies with less bureaucracy than multilateral institutions like the World Bank.
But some Western nations have expressed concern that the loans could trap poor countries in debt, saddling them with poor quality projects and forcing them to hand over control of strategic assets used as collateral. (Reporting by John Irish with additional reporting by Katharine Houreld in Nairobi and Reuters TV Writing by John Irish and Michel Rose Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Heinrich)