South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir Mayardit has dismissed Vice President Riek Machar Teny, along with all his cabinet ministers.
Heavily armed South Sudanese troops and police guarded key government institutions in the capital Juba Wednesday, as radio broadcasts called for calm after the suspension.
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“[Kiir] has taken the power struggle to a whole other level,” Sara Pantuliano, head of the humanitarian policy group at the Overseas Development Institute, told Al Jazeera. “We are going to see big confrontation in the next few days.”
Kiir had issued a presidential decree on Tuesday which also removed all deputy ministers of the government, local media reported.
“President Kiir wants to make a major reshuffle, so from the vice president downwards, all national ministers and deputy ministers have been removed,” Barnaba Marial Benjamin, told AFP news agency.
Benjamin was, until his suspension on Tuesday, the information minister and government spokesman.
The move has been called a “reshuffle”, and has been expected, but there have been no appointments to replace those dismissed.
The government is now being run by under-secretaries until further notice.
Kiir also reduced the number of ministries in his government from 29 to 18, though it was not yet clear which ministries had been cut, with no reasons provided for the changes.
Benjamin told AFP that the president had acted within his constitutional mandate.
“It is his constitutional mandate to form and dissolve a government.”
The now dismissed Benjamin also said that “some of these people will come back and some will not.”
Security forces had deployed on the streets of Juba, the capital, a common sight in the city, but all seemed calm, reported AFP.
Al Jazeera’s Anna Cavell, reporting from Juba, said it was not yet clear what would happen. She said expatriates had been instructed to go home or to stay indoors.
Residents in Juba told AFP that there was concern at the suspensions, which follows earlier orders by Kiir in April to clip the powers of Machar.
“People are staying at home, and if people are out in town they are rushing back just in case there is trouble,” said Richard Jok, a student.
Some reports pointed to the dismissal of 17 police officers as well, but this could not be immediately confirmed.
While Kiir heads the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), many of the ministers dismissed, including the secretary-general of SPLM, Pagan Amum, were key figures in SPLM’s armed wing that fought a brutal 1983-2005 war against the government in Khartoum, which led to a 2011 referendum in which South Sudan voted overwhelmingly to split from the north.
Amum, South Sudan’s chief negotiator in talks with Sudan, criticised Kiir’s decision as politically motivated.
Reports of a power struggle in the ruling party have persisted, particularly between Kiir and his first vice president, Teny, who has said he is interested in running for president in 2015, reported AP news agency
Last month Kiir suspended two of his most senior and influential ministers to launch investigations into an alleged multi-million dollar corruption scandal.
Probes were launched into finance minister Kosti Manibe and cabinet affairs minister Deng Alor, powerful leaders of the young nation.
Dozens of generals have also been relieved of their positions in the past year.