UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council urged Somalia's feuding government leaders on Saturday to resolve their disagreements through dialogue and give top priority to holding long-delayed national elections this year.
The U.N.'s most powerful body also urged the federal government and regional states "to ensure that any political differences do not divert from united action against al-Shabab and other militant groups."
The press statement approved by all 15 council members followed emergency consultations Friday on Somalia's worsening political crisis, which has raised regional and international concerns that elections could be threatened and the east Africa region could face further destabilization.
The council meeting followed President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed's statement Thursday saying he suspended Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble's power to hire and fire officials, the latest action in their increasingly divisive relationship.
In the statement, council members expressed "deep concern about the ongoing disagreement within the Somali government and the negative impact on the electoral timetable and process."
They urged all parties "to exercise restraint, and underlined the importance of maintaining peace, security and stability in Somalia."
Three decades of chaos, from warlords to al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab and the emergence of an Islamic State-linked group, have ripped apart the country that only in the past few years has begun trying to rebuild and find its footing.
The pressure on President Mohamed to hold elections has intensified since scheduled elections on Feb. 8 failed to take place because of the lack of agreement on how the vote should be carried out.
Talks between the federal government and regional leaders that began in March broke down in early April. At the president's request, the lower house of parliament then adopted a special law that extended the terms of current office holders for two years and abandoned a Sept. 17, 2020 agreement on indirect elections, reverting instead to a one-person, one-vote model.
Those decisions sparked widespread opposition, leading to the mobilization of militias, exposing divisions within Somali security forces, and resulting in violent clashes on April 25.
After the clashes, President Mohamed on May 1 asked the lower house of parliament to reverse its actions that included extending his mandate for two years.
He also asked lawmakers to back the agreement the federal government reached with regional states last Sept. 17 on a way forward for the vote, and he asked Prime Minister Roble to lead the election preparations and the related security measures. This led to a May 27 agreement on holding indirect elections this year.
The Security Council statement "urged all parties to resolve their differences through dialogue for the good of Somalia and to prioritize the peaceful conduct of transparent, credible and inclusive elections within the agreed timelines and in accordance with the Sept. 17 and May 27 agreements."
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, who called for Friday's closed briefing by U.N. special envoy James Swan, expressed serious concern about "the rising tensions between the prime minister and the president."
She said it was clear from Swan's briefing that shuttle diplomacy is taking place to try to resolve the differences between the president and prime minister.
"But the fact is, and we also made this clear, that this is a very dangerous distraction from the primary task of going ahead with the elections," she said. "The risks for the Somali people, the risks for giving Al-Shabab more room are very high indeed. So, we want to move out of this situation as soon as possible and resolve it."
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday that as Somalis mark the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 17 agreement, the U.N. and its international partners are also "increasingly alarmed that the escalating dispute between the president and prime minister will undermine Somalia's stability and derail the electoral process."