Freetown (AFP) - Sierra Leone leader Ernest Bai Koroma has sacked his vice-president, he announced, in a bid to turn the page on a political crisis that raised fears over the country's stability.
Samuel Sam-Sumana's dismissal comes almost two weeks after he was expelled from the governing All People's Congress (APC) and went into hiding, claiming he was in danger and asking the United States to grant him asylum.
"I have taken note of the decision of the APC," Koroma said in a statement read out intermittently on state radio overnight Tuesday to Wednesday.
"The public will recall, and I have also taken note of the fact that... Alhaji Samuel Sam-Sumana sought asylum from a foreign embassy, demonstrating a willingness to abandon his duties and office as vice president of our beloved republic."
Koroma said he was relieving Sam-Sumana "of the duties and from the office of vice president of Sierra Leone with immediate effect".
The president said he was in talks with his party to "shortly" find a replacement for Sam-Sumana, his running mate in his successful 2007 and 2012 presidential campaigns.
The APC announced on March 6 it had kicked out Sam-Sumana for fomenting violence in his home district of Kono, deceit, fraud and threatening key party officials.
He was accused of lying about being a Muslim, inventing a university degree from the US, attempting to start up a breakaway party and keeping "over 100 groups of thugs to unleash violence against party people in the Kono district".
Witnesses described how heavily-armed men entered his hilltop home in Freetown while he was away on Saturday and disarmed his security guards, leaving with bundles of files.
He denied all charges and fled into hiding, claiming he feared for his life and applying to the US Embassy in Freetown for asylum, according to his aides.
The government has repeatedly dismissed claims that the vice president is in any danger, claiming his fears for his life were "ludicrous".
- 'Dark days' -
The 52-year-old's expulsion came a few days after he had put himself in quarantine due to the death of one of his bodyguards from Ebola.
The action against him has been presented as part of a wider crackdown on "anti-party activities" which saw expulsions, reprimands and fines for several other senior members.
But religious leaders have warned that the "strained relationship" between the Sam-Sumana and Koroma threatened the stability of a country still recovering from its ruinous 1991-2002 civil war.
"We are calling on the authorities of the nation to tread cautiously bearing in mind that the country cannot afford to go back to those dark days of our recent past and that stability and security of the state are of prime importance," the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone said last week.
The sacking comes after a groundswell of anger directed at Sam-Sumana in recent days among activists in his home district.
Francis Bondo, the chairman of the Kono branch of the APC, called for Sam-Sumana's "immediate resignation" on Tuesday in front of a large delegation of his local members who had travelled en masse to Freetown.
APC secretary-general Osman Yansaneh called on Sam-Sumana to hand over his party membership card and other documents.
"Nobody is above the constitution of the All People's Congress and the party will discipline anyone who flouts (rules) in the party," he said.
Opinion was more nuanced on the streets of Freetown as news of the Sam-Sumana's sacking spread early Wednesday.
"Yes, he deserves to go and the president acted right. Now the APC can get on with the task of nation building," said textile trader Abu Sillah.
But taxi driver Alimamy Konteh said Sam-Sumana's record of success "should have made the president show a bit of leniency and forgive him".