Hundreds of troops loyal to Somalia PM gather outside presidential palace

Show of strength comes a day after the president tried to suspend the prime minister

The presidential palace in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: Reuters
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Hundreds of troops loyal to Somalia's Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble on Tuesday camped near the residence of his political rival President Mohammed Abdullahi Mohammed, a day after the president tried to suspend the prime minister.

Mr Roble has called Mr Mohammed's plan to suspend him a coup attempt. The US, which operates in Somalia against militants, called on all sides to avoid escalation but also appeared to back the prime minister.

The security forces had taken no action by Tuesday afternoon, but the gathering spurred fears of a potential clash between forces loyal to the two men.

"Troops have camped in our village. If the notorious Villa Somalia [presidential palace] starts war then there will be crossfire," said Canab Osman, a mother of seven who operates a grocery shop in a nearby district of the capital Mogadishu.

Another resident and local elder, Farah Ali, said security forces that had amassed in the area were fitting pick-up trucks with artillery weapons.

Somalia, where no central government has held broad authority for 30 years, is in the midst of a protracted indirect election process to choose new leadership, repeatedly held up amid confrontation between Mr Mohammed and Mr Roble.

In April, an attempt by the president to extend his four-year term by two years led army factions loyal to each man to briefly seize rival positions in Mogadishu.

The US State Department African Affairs Bureau said in a tweet late on Monday that it was prepared to act against those obstructing Somalia's path to peace.

Somalia's Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble. Photo: Reuters

"The attempted suspension of Mr Roble is alarming and we support his efforts for rapid and credible elections," the bureau said. "All parties must desist from escalatory actions and statements."

In suspending the prime minister, Mr Mohammed accused Mr Roble of stealing land owned by the Somali National Army and interfering with a defence ministry investigation.

In response, Mr Roble said the president's action was unconstitutional and aimed at derailing the election. He ordered security forces to start taking orders from him, rather than Mr Mohammed.

The months-long dispute between the prime minister and the president has distracted the government from fighting an insurgency against Al Qaeda-linked group Al Shabaab.

Calls for president to step down

On Tuesday the Council of Presidential Candidates, a group of politicians who plan to contest the election including two former presidents, called for Mr Mohammed to step down "as soon as possible in order to end the crisis".

Mr Mohammed and Mr Roble have accused each other of holding up the parliamentary elections, which began on November 1 and were supposed to be completed by December 24. As of Saturday, only 24 of 275 lower house representatives had been elected.

Under Somalia's indirect electoral process, regional councils are meant to choose a senate. Clan elders are then meant to pick members of the lower house, which would then choose a new president at a date yet to be fixed.

Updated: December 29, 2021, 5:50 AM