- coups - Guinea-Bissau - Joao Bernardo Vieira - military - murder - unrest
AFP - The African Union and former colonial power Portugal led calls on Monday condemning the assassination of Guinea-Bissau's President Joao Bernardo Vieira, and world powers urged politicians and the army to uphold shaky constitutional rule.
"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.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon slammed the assassination and called for calm in the West African nation.
"The secretary-general is deeply saddened and dismayed by the assassinations of president Joao Bernardo Vieira and his chief of general staff, general Batista Tagme Na Waie," a UN statement said.
"The secretary-general strongly condemns these violent acts, which have occurred soon after successful legislative elections which paved the way for enhanced UN support to the country's peacebuilding efforts."
Ban also called "urgently for calm and restraint, and urges the national authorities of Guinea-Bissau to fully investigate these assassinations and bring to justice those responsible for them."
Portugal condemned the 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".
Soldiers shot and killed the veteran president as he fled his home Monday, during an apparent reprisal for Sunday's killing of Tagme in a bomb attack.
The US embassy in Bissau spoke out against both killings and called for "calm and for the leaders of Guinea-Bissau to respect the rule of law and follow the established constitutional order regarding succession."
After the violence, the army announced that it would uphold democratic and constitutional institutions, which means that the parliamentary speaker should replace Vieira pending elections within 60 days.
Within Guinea-Bissau, senior army, air force and naval officers held talks with Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and then armed forces spokesman, naval Commander Jose Zamora Induta distanced the military from the death of the head of state.
"We do not accept that people are interpreting this as a coup d'etat," Induta, spokesman for a military commission set up late Sunday, told journalists.
"I repeat, it is not a coup d'etat," he said, stating that those responsible had "still not been identified" and that the armed forces had given "guarantees to the prime minister" of abiding by democratic principles.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe described Vieira's killing as a "callous murder" and called for armed forces to respect the rule of law.
"No amount of words can fully express the international community's outrage and condemnation of such heinous acts," Motlanthe said.
Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini voiced the "strongest condemnation" of the violence and urged Italian diplomats closely to "monitor events in order to ensure the safety" of Italian nationals. He also pledged to work with regional organisations on "political initiatives to re-establish civilised cohabitation in western Africa."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana "strongly" condemned Vieira's assassination and called for "constitutional order" to be respected.
The death of Vieira, who had been a leader in the war for independence gained in 1974, was also "vehemently condemned" by his peers in the Lusophone community of nations, the CPLP, which issued a statement of "hope that in spite of the seriousness of the situation, it will be possible to maintain internal order and the democratically established institutions."
The CPLP's executive secretary, Domingos Simoes Pereira, told the LUSA news agency that the community wanted the "active forces, particularly the political and military forces ... to restore the legality of the state" and that CPLP delegates would meet in Lisbon later Monday to work out how to help.
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.
"It's sad to observe that in such a short time, we have recorded three coups in West Africa," the African Union's Ping said. "It's very alarming."
Coups also took place in Guinea and Mauritania in 2008.
The head of the regional Economic Community of West African States, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, deplored the situation in Guinea-Bissau saying it amounted to an "assassination of democracy."
A spokesman for Algeria's foreign ministry said Vieira's murder could "threaten stability and safety" in Guinea-Bissau.
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade also firmly condemned "violence to seize power" and paid tribute to Vieira.