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President, PM held after Guinea-Bissau coup

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2012-04-13

Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau reportedly took into custody Friday interim president Raimundo Pereira and prime minister, Carlos Gomes Junior, in what the West African bloc ECOWAS has described as an attempted coup.

AFP - Guinea-Bissau's president and prime minister were in army custody on Friday after troops staged an apparent coup just two weeks ahead of a presidential run-off vote in the chronically unstable west African country.

A bodyguard of interim president Raimundo Pereira said soldiers arrested him at his home during the putsch on Thursday and took him to an "unknown destination."

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior -- tipped to win the ballot set for April 29 -- was also arrested and whisked away in a pickup truck, his wife Salome told AFP earlier.

The army said however that it has "no ambition for power" in the troubled country of 1.6 million people, following an earlier statement that it acted in response to an alleged "secret deal" between Guinea-Bissau and Angola, which has 200 troops in the country ostensibly to help reform the military.

"The military command has no ambition for power," the army said in a statement, alleging that the government was bent on "eliminating the army with a foreign military force."

US CALLS FOR RETURN OF CIVILIAN RULE TO GUINEA-BISSAU

The United States called Friday for the return of civilian rule to Guinea-Bissau the day after an apparent coup attempt in the west African country.

"We ... urge all parties to put down their weapons and restore legitimate civilian leadership," the US embassy in Dakar said in a statement. "It is regrettable that elements of the Bissau-Guinean military have chosen to derail the democratic process in Guinea-Bissau."



The Angolan troop presence has been a bone of contention between the Guinea-Bissau government and army amid suspicions that it was being secretly built up.

Late Thursday, soldiers armed with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles seized the ruling party headquarters and the state radio station as gunfire resounded and ambulance sirens wailed in the capital Bissau, which was plunged into darkness as electricity was cut off.

A military source said those arrested were taken to army headquarters at Amura, near the coast of the impoverished country that has seen half a dozen coups or attempted coups since 1980 and has become a hub for drug-running.

The US embassy in neighbouring Senegal called for the return of civilian rule, saying: "It is regrettable that elements of the Bissau-Guinean military have chosen to derail the democratic process in Guinea-Bissau."

The African Union's commission chief Jean Ping condemned what he called "outrageous acts which undermine the efforts to stabilise the situation in Guinea-Bissau and tarnish the image of the country and Africa."

"The AU will not accept any unconstitutional seizure of power and attempt at undermining the democratic process in Guinea-Bissau," Ping said.

West African regional group ECOWAS, which has been grappling with a putsch and rebellion in nearby Mali, "rigorously condemned" the coup bid, while former colonial power Portugal appealed "for a halt to the violence and respect for the law".

Soldiers patrolled the streets Friday, clustering outside the finance and justice ministries as well as the headquarters of the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

Violence had been feared for days in the election period in Guinea-Bissau, which is known as a major drug trafficking hub between South America and Europe.

The opposition -- led by second-placed Kumba Yala, a former president who claims the first round of the election was rigged -- have called for a boycott of the run-off, originally set for April 22 but postponed on Wednesday to April 29.

"Whoever dares to campaign will be responsible for what happens," Yala warned at a news conference with another four main opposition candidates on Thursday, denouncing what he called "massive fraud."

Gomes garnered 49 percent of the votes in the first round against Yala's 23 percent. The election campaign for the second round was supposed to start Friday and end April 27.

The first round was also tainted by the assassination of former military intelligence chief Colonel Samba Diallo, who had been accused of involvement in a 2009 bombing that killed the country's then army chief and prompted the murder of president Joao Bernardo Vieira in a revenge attack.

Since independence through armed combat in 1974, Guinea-Bissau's army and state have remained in constant, often deadly conflict, with the result that no president has ever completed a full term in office.

Three have been overthrown and one was assassinated in office in 2009.

The latest election was held after the last president, Malam Bacai Sanha, died in January following a long illness.

Date created : 2012-04-13

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