Somalia’s president said on Monday he had suspended the prime minister for suspected corruption, a move the prime minister described as a coup attempt, escalating a power struggle between the two leaders
The raging, months-long dispute has seen both leaders trade allegations over the holding up of parliamentary elections, and is widely seen as distracting the government of the Horn of Africa country from fighting an Islamist insurgency.
It will also raise concerns about the prospect of renewed clashes between factions in the security forces allied to each side, prompting the United States to call for calm.
President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed accused Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble of stealing land owned by the Somali National Army (SNA) and of interfering with a defence ministry investigation.
“The president decided to suspend [the] prime minister … and stop his powers since he was linked with corruption,” the office of the president said in a statement, accusing Roble of interfering with an investigation into a land grabbing case.
It added that the marine forces commander was also under investigation for corruption and had been suspended.
In response, Roble said the move was unconstitutional and aimed at derailing an ongoing election. He also ordered the security forces to start taking orders from him, instead of the president.
The steps taken by Mohamed “were an open coup attempt against the government and the national constitution”, Roble said in a statement posted on the Facebook page of Somalia state news agency SONNA.
“The aim of the illegal, crooked steps … is to derail the election and illegally remain in office.
Roble’s office also called the statement “outrageous”, saying on Twitter the attempt to “militarily take over” the office of the prime minister was in breach of the law.
Assistant Information Minister Abdirahman Yusuf Omar Adala called the president’s decision an “indirect coup.”
“What is going on this morning is [an] indirect coup but it will not win,” Adala said on Facebook, adding that the deployment of security forces around Roble’s office would not prevent the prime minister from carrying out his duties.
In a Twitter post later on Monday, the US embassy in Somalia said it “strongly” urged Somalia’s leaders “to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions in Mogadishu, refrain from provocative actions, and avoid violence”.
The UK embassy in Somalia also urged in a tweet both sides to de-escalate and to refrain from violence.
The move by the president, who is widely known as Farmaajo, came a day after trading accusations with Roble of holding up ongoing parliamentary elections.
Somalia, which has had only a limited central government since 1991, is trying to reconstruct itself with the help of the United Nations and to fight the al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab armed group.