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Somalia's Puntland refuses to recognise federal government after disputed constitutional changes

BOSASO (Reuters) - Somalia's semi-autonomous state of Puntland said on Sunday it has withdrawn from the country's federal system and will govern itself independently until constitutional amendments passed by the central government are approved in a nationwide referendum.

The federal parliament in Mogadishu on Saturday approved several constitutional changes that the government says are necessary to establish a stable political system.

Critics say the changes, which include introducing direct presidential elections and allowing the president to appoint a prime minister without parliamentary approval, concentrate power in the hands of the executive.

"Puntland will act independently until there is a federal government with a constitution that is agreed upon by a referendum in which Puntland takes part," the state's council of ministers said in a statement.

The rift is another headache for President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, who is struggling to end an al Qaeda-linked insurgency, put down a resurgence in piracy and assert federal authority over the breakaway region of Somaliland after it agreed to lease a port to Ethiopia.

(Reporting by Abdiqani Hassan; additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Hereward Holland and Hugh Lawson)