Somalia cut diplomatic relations with neighbouring Kenya on Tuesday, accusing it of meddling in politics as protests and gunfire erupted in Mogadishu over delayed elections.
The dispute could undermine co-operation in the fight against the Islamist group al Shabaab in Somalia, where Kenya provides 3 600 troops to an African Union peacekeeping force.
“Somalia calls back all its diplomats from Kenya and orders Kenyan diplomats to leave Somalia within seven days,” Somali Information Minister Osman Dube told the state news agency.
Dube added in a statement on Radio Mogadishu Nairobi was interfering, but did not give more details.
“This is an answer to the constant political violation and Kenya’s open interference in Somalia’s independence,” he said.
Mogadishu’s move to cut ties followed a two-day visit to Kenya by Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somalia’s breakaway region Somaliland, that ended on Monday.
During the visit, Abdi and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged “unwavering commitment to deepen the cordial bilateral relations” between Kenya and Somaliland, according to a Kenyan presidency statement.
Mogadishu regards Somaliland as an integral part of Somalia.
Last month, Somalia expelled Nairobi’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy alleging interference in the electoral process in Jubbaland.
Jubbaland, which borders Kenya, is one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states.
Last year, Kenya recalled its ambassador after Mogadishu decided to auction disputed oil and gas exploration blocks at sea. Ties were restored a few months later.
The diplomatic flare-up came as anti-government protests broke out in Mogadishu. Demonstrators denounced President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – usually known by his nickname “Farmaajo” (cheese) – over delayed votes for both houses of parliament.
The polls were due early this month but snagged on disagreements over composition of the electoral board.
The opposition accuses government of packing it with sympathisers, which officials deny.
“We do not want a dictator, we do not want Farmaajo,” protesters chanted, calling him to quit. Some carried placards with “Farmaajo is a curse” on them.
Armed men in plain clothes guarded protesters but soon exchanged gunfire
There was no immediate response from government to the protests.
with police, prompting protesters to seek safety. A witness, Halima, Farah told Reuters she saw two people injured.