BAIDOA, Somalia (Reuters) - Somalia's prime minister on Saturday accused Libya, Egypt, Iran and Eritrea of fomenting extremism in his country, and said the killers of a cabinet minister had links with "international terrorists."
His comments came after hundreds of mourners attended the funeral of Constitution and Federalism Minister Abdallah Deerow Isaq, who was gunned down outside a mosque in the latest flare-up of violence in the Horn of Africa nation.
"He was killed by criminals linked to international terrorism," Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi said in Baidoa, seat of the interim government and site of the murder.
"It's unfortunate that some countries who we thought were our friends have united to destroy the transitional federal government. Such countries include Libya, Egypt, Iran and Eritrea who together are fuelling terrorism in Somalia."
Gedi gave no more details of his accusations, nor did he specifically accuse any of those countries for the murder.
Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alaa el-Hadidi rejected the charges.
"We express sorrow and astonishment. Sorrow for saying such a thing and astonishment for expressing such a sentiment.
"Egypt's position is known in supporting the Somali people and the legitimate government," he added.
Gedi's government's standoff with a burgeoning Islamist movement, which took control of Mogadishu and other southern towns last month, is fast turning into a regional crisis.
While Ethiopia has sent troops to protect the fragile government at its provincial base, according to witnesses, Eritrea is widely believed to be arming the Islamists.
Experts believe the Islamists are harbouring a small number of foreign extremists, and their top leader, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, is on U.S. and U.N. terrorism lists.
The United States sent its most explicit warning yet to Eritrea and Ethiopia to stay out of the escalating crisis.
"You want to keep Ethiopians and Eritreans out of Somalia, that they don't take their border conflict and move it into the Somalia venue," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer said in Kinshasa, where she is monitoring elections.
Protesters outraged at the minister's assassination burned tyres and looted shops on Friday, but calm returned on Saturday.
"The man who did that was a professional assassin. There's no way he would be an amateur," said resident Abdi Ali.
Across Baidoa, an old agricultural and trading town surrounded by bushland, security was tight. Vehicles were stopped at checkpoints, and guards with AK-47 rifles stood at hotels where lawmakers and ministers stay.
President Abdullahi Yusuf and other top government figures led mourners at the early morning funeral, witnesses said.
In honour of the minister, a scheduled parliamentary debate on a no-confidence motion on prime minister Gedi was postponed from Saturday to Sunday, lawmakers told Reuters.
Ministers and lawmakers in Somalia's interim authorities -- set up in 2004 in the 14th bid to end anarchy and restore central rule since 1991 -- are split on Gedi's fate.
Those who want him out see it as a way to draw the rival Islamists into a power-sharing pact by offering them his post.
The alternative, many fear, is war.
Diplomats are urging a return to peace talks in Sudan.
"We can't drag them to the table, but I believe there is a lot we (the international community) can do to convince them," African Union envoy to Somalia, Muhammad Ali Foum, told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne, Jack Kimball and Tia Goldenberg in Nairobi)
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