Mogadishu (AFP) -
A long-running political crisis in Somalia escalated on Monday as the president suspended the prime minister, who blasted the move as an 'attempted coup' and asked the armed forces to follow his orders.
The angry exchange came a day after President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, who is better known as Farmajo, sparred with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble over the country's sluggish preparations for elections.
Relations between the pair have long been frosty, but the latest verbal broadsides stoke fears for Somalia's stability as the country struggles to stage elections and fight a jihadist insurgency.
Farmajo's office on Monday announced the president had 'decided to suspend Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble and stop his powers since he was linked with corruption,' accusing him of interfering with a probe into a land-grabbing case.
Roble hit back, accusing Farmajo of attempting to carry out 'a coup against the government, the constitution, and the rules of the country.'
'As the president has seemingly decided to destroy government institutions... I order all Somali national forces to work under the command of the office of the prime minister from today', Roble told a press conference.
Despite a heightened military presence around the prime minister's office, Roble was still able to enter the premises, a day after Farmajo withdrew his mandate to organise the elections and called for the creation of a new committee to 'correct' the shortcomings.
The two men have traded accusations in recent days, with Roble alleging that Farmajo did not want to hold 'a credible election'.
Farmajo in turn has accused Roble of trying to influence a probe into a scandal involving army-owned land after the premier sacked the defence minister and replaced him on Sunday.
'The prime minister has pressurised the minister of defence to divert the investigations of the case relating to the grabbed public land,' Monday's statement by Farmajo's office said.
- US 'deeply concerned' -
The dispute alarmed international observers, prompting the US embassy in Mogadishu to urge Somalia's leaders 'to take immediate steps to de-escalate tensions... refrain from provocative actions, and avoid violence.'
Somalia's elections have been hampered by delays for several months.
In April, pro-government and opposition fighters opened fire in the streets of Mogadishu after Farmajo extended his term without holding fresh elections.
The constitutional crisis was only defused when Farmajo reversed the term extension and Roble brokered a timetable to a vote.
But in the months that followed, a bitter rivalry between the men derailed the election again.
Farmajo and Roble only agreed to bury the hatchet in October, and issued a unified call for the glacial election process to accelerate.
Somalia's elections follow a complex indirect model. Nearly 30,000 clan delegates are assigned to choose 275 MPs for the lower house while five state legislatures elect senators for the upper house.
Both houses of parliament then vote for the next president.
Elections for the upper house have concluded in all states and voting for the lower house began in early November.
But the appointment of a president still appears to be a long way off, straining ties with Western allies who want to see the process reach a peaceful conclusion.
On Sunday, the US State Department said it was 'deeply concerned by the continuing delays and by the procedural irregularities that have undermined the credibility of the process'.
Analysts say the election impasse has distracted from Somalia's larger problems, most notably the Al-Shabaab insurgency.
The Al-Qaeda allies were driven out of Mogadishu a decade ago but retain control of swathes of countryside and continue to stage deadly attacks in the capital and elsewhere.