FREETOWN (Reuters) - Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma has sacked Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana for seeking asylum in the U.S. Embassy, a statement from the president’s office said on Wednesday.
The firing could stoke political tensions in one of the three West African countries hardest-hit by the worst outbreak on record of the Ebola virus that has killed over 3,600 people in Sierra Leone.
Koroma said in the statement that Sam-Sumana had abandoned his duties and office as vice president by seeking refuge in a foreign embassy, adding that he would appoint a new deputy shortly.
Sam-Sumana said on Saturday he would remain in hiding and would not return home due to security fears, but his whereabouts were unclear.
“Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana is no longer a member of a political party in Sierra Leone and therefore does not have the continuous requirement to hold office as vice president of the Republic of Sierra Leone,” Koroma’s statement said.
Sam-Sumana said in a statement he was “shocked and amazed” by a decision he called unconstitutional. Koroma has “absolutely no powers to relieve me of the duties of the vice president,” he said, adding that he would challenge the decision in the country’s supreme court.
Sam-Sumana requested asylum at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown after soldiers surrounded his residence on Saturday following his expulsion from the ruling party this month.
Following an investigation by Koroma’s All People’s Congress (APC) party, Sam-Sumana was accused of creating his own rival political movement and fomenting violence in his home region of Kono, in diamond-rich eastern Sierra Leone.
Sm-Sumana has rejected calls to resign and denied the accusations against him, which also included charges of lying about his academic credentials and his Muslim faith.
His expulsion from the party has stirred confusion as Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution only allows the dismissal of the vice president with the vote of two-thirds of parliament, but it does require the office holder to belong to a political party.
Writing by Bate Felix and Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman