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Africa

Lawmakers back PM as constitutional choice

Video by Luke BROWN

Latest update : 2009-03-04

Lawmakers in Guinea-Bissau Tuesday voted to uphold the constitution by which parliament speaker Raimundo Pereira succeeds as interim president, following the assassination of the head of state. Pereira will be sworn in on Tuesday.

AFP - Guinea-Bissau's interim President Raimundo Pereira sought international help to stabilise his nation as he took oath Tuesday, a day after his predecessor's brutal murder.
   
The UN Security Council meanwhile condemned the assassinations of Guinea-Bissau's president and the army chief of staff, and called for calm in the restive West African nation.
   
Pereira said the coup-prone state, which gained independence from Portugal in 1974, would need help to get back on its feet after the dramatic events of the past few days.
   
"For the past decade, no president has ever finished his term," Pereira said as he issued a plea to Portuguese-speaking nations, regional blocs such as the African Union, and the United Nations.
   
"Help this country regain the reflexes of a stable state," he said, adding that he would "assume the functions of head of state until elections are held," which under the constitution is within 60 days.
   
Veteran president Joao Bernardo Vieira, who doctors said was brutally beaten before being shot several times in the throat and face, fell victim to a revenge attack Monday after the assassination of the country's military chief.
   
"The president was hit by several bullets in the thorax and face and his body shows the marks of violent blows. He was savagely beaten before being finished off with several bullets," said a doctor, refusing to be identified.
   
Vieira was assassinated at his home in apparent retaliation for a bomb blast Sunday night which killed the head of the armed forces, General Tagme Na Waie.
   
The security council said it "condemns in the strongest terms the assassinations," and "calls on the government of Guinea-Bissau to bring to justice those responsible for these violent acts."
   
The council added that it "calls upon the government, the political leaders, the armed forces and the people of Guinea-Bissau to remain calm, exercise restraint, maintain stability and constitutional order and respect the rule of law and the democratic process."
   
Pereira took the oath of office at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and a visiting delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc.
   
ECOWAS chief Mohamed Ibn Chambas said Pereira's investiture was "a very good step for the return of constitutional order.
   
"We want a constitutional transition" to put Guinea-Bissau back "on the road to democracy," he told AFP.
   
The interim leader held talks earlier in the day with overseas envoys, including Joao Gomes Cravinho, Portugal's deputy foreign minister.
   
Guinea-Bissau's main opposition, the Social Renovation Party of former president Kumba Yala who was toppled in a 2003 coup, criticised the "haste" in naming Pereira while warning of fresh unrest.
   
The capital Bissau was returning to normal Tuesday with government ministries and businesses reopening and children going to school, residents said.
   
Soldiers had largely withdrawn from the streets of the capital after a show of force in the hours after the killings.
   
Military chiefs have pledged to respect constitutional order and denied all talk of a coup.
   
An emergency session of the African Union's Peace and Security Council in Addis Ababa concluded that Vieira's assassination was not a coup, which could have led to automatic expulsion from the 53-member bloc.
   
"A head of state was assassinated but we have not reached the stage where the situation can be defined as a coup," said Bruno Nongoma Zidouemba, who chaired the meeting.
   
Moamer Kadhafi, the Libyan leader and current African Union chairman, said the bloc would dispatch an envoy to Bissau "to assess the situation and prevent it from worsening."
   
The envoy was later named as Julia Dolly Joiner, the AU's commissioner for political affairs.
   
Guinea-Bissau has a history of coups and has become a notorious transit point for the cocaine trade between South America and Europe, raising the stakes in long-running power feuds between political and military leaders.
   
Details began to emerge Tuesday of the military assault on the president's home.
   
A soldier who said he took part in the operation told AFP they had deployed late Sunday from a barracks north of the capital to "liquidate President Vieira" and avenge the death of the army chief.
   
He said the unit had first sprung seven soldiers from a police station in Bissau, where they had been held since an attack on Vieira's residence in November that had killed two guards and left the president and his army chief at loggerheads.

Date created : 2009-03-04

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