MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia’s prime minister has asked African Union soldiers to take over protection of lawmakers as they pick new leadership, after warning police and intelligence officials not to interfere in the long-overdue elections.
Somalia’s long-delayed election process has been beset by Islamist violence and a power struggle between President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble.
Last year political rivalries split the security forces so badly that rival factions of the army battled in the streets, a rift that has lead to a stand-off over security for the elections.
Prime Minister Roble condemned two attacks on Monday, where intelligence agents were accused by two lawmakers of opening fire on a lawmaker’s car and getting into a shootout outside a hotel where parliamentarians were being sworn in.
Roble’s office did not say who was behind the attack, but warned police and intelligence chiefs over involvement in “irregularities” in the elections. The National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) did not respond to a request for comment.
Somali’s elections had been scheduled for a year ago but were delayed when President Mohamed tried to extend his four-year term by two years, a move thwarted by parliament.
Roble authorized AU peacekeepers to secure an airplane hangar in the capital Mogadishu where lawmakers were expected to choose a speaker of the lower house of parliament on Wednesday, his office said in a statement late on Tuesday.
President Mohamed countermanded the order, saying the police force was responsible for security, the president’s office wrote in a statement late on Tuesday.
On Wednesday morning, police tried to the block the entrance to the hangar, but the Prime Minister’s security forces ordered them to leave, a Reuters journalist at the scene said.
The hangar remained protected by peacekeepers and PM Roble’s forces, the journalist said.
The election of speakers in the parliament and senate are a key step in establishing the new government, which must be in place by May 17 if Somalia is to continue receiving budget support from the International Monetary Fund, the lender said in February.
Internal Security minister Abdillahi Mohamed Nur suspended police chief Abdi Hassan Hijar on Wednesday, instructing officers to avoid “political engagement, especially in electoral matters.”
On Tuesday Abdi Hashi, a long serving senator and critic of the president, was re-elected as speaker of the upper house.
(Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan and Feisal Omar; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)