President Joao Bernardo Vieira (pictured) of Guinea-Bissau was gunned down by soldiers on Monday, just hours after a bomb attack on military headquarters killed the country's chief of staff.
AFP - The African Union and former colonial power Portugal Monday led calls condemning the assassination of Guinea-Bissau's President Joao Bernardo Vieira, which sparked alarm at instability in West Africa.
"I was deeply shocked this morning to hear of the assassination of the president of the republic of Guinea-Bissau, Nino Vieira. The AU and myself firmly condemn this criminal act," said Jean Ping, the AU's top executive, using Vieira's nickname.
Portugal said it "profoundly regrets the death of President 'Nino' Vieira" and "strongly condemns this attack, like all the acts of violence committed in Guinea-Bissau since Sunday which also led to the death of the chief of staff of the armed forces, General Tagme Na Waie," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
The small west African nation was a Portuguese colony until 1974 and Vieira had been a leader in the war for independence.
Guinea-Bissau soldiers gunned down the veteran president as he fled his home Monday, a military spokesman said, adding that the army blamed Vieira, 69, for the death of their leader Tagme in a bomb attack on Sunday.
Ping deplored the events in Guinea-Bissau as the latest in a string of recent coups on the continent.
"It's sad to observe that in such a short time, we have recorded three coups in West Africa. It's very alarming," he said.
Coups also took place in Guinea and Mauritania in 2008.
The head of the ECOWAS regional bloc deplored the situation in Guinea-Bissau saying it amounted to an "assassination of democracy."
"We want to consolidate democracy, peace and security in this region (west Africa). The death of a president, of a chief of staff, is very grave news," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
"It's not only the assassination of a president or a chief of staff, it's the assassination of democracy," said Chambas.
A human rights group in Dakar declared there was a "culture of assassinations" in Guinea-Bissau and a need to reform the army there as in the other two countries where coups recently took place.
"The armies are very politicised and have been in power for a long time," said Alioune Tine, head of the African human rights watchdog Raddho.
By mid-day Monday Guinea-Bissau's army said it would respect "constitutional order" in the country.
The AU's Ping meanwhile said he was "holding consultations with regional leaders to find a way out of the crisis," reiterating the pan-African body's condemnation of any attempt to seize power through unconstitutional means.
Date created : 2009-03-03