Uncertain wait ahead of Guinea-Bissau vote

Guinea-Bissau's interim President Raimundo Pereira began an uncertain command of the African nation on Wednesday, 60 days ahead of elections following the assassination of the former president and army chief.


AFP - Guinea-Bissau's interim President Raimundo Pereira on Wednesday began a tightrope walk to organise elections within two months after the assassination of his predecessor in a highly unstable nation.

The opposition criticised the catapulting into office of the parliamentary speaker, who was sworn in on Tuesday, a day after veteran leader Joao Bernardo Vieira was gunned down by renegade soldiers.

"We would have preferred a debate open to all active forces in the country in an appropriate forum like parliament to reflect on the kind of state to set up," opposition spokesman Batista Correira told AFP.

"Out of personal and party interests, some preferred to precipitate things," added the spokesman of the Social Renovation Party (PRS), which has 28 of the parliamentary seats, after the ruling African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) with 67.

However, the constitution formally provides for the speaker to take power in such a vacuum, though he has his hands largely tied, can issue no decrees and should organise new polls within 60 days.

Pereira was sworn in the day after Vieira died in a hail of bullets while trying to flee soldiers who accused him of a fatal bomb attack Sunday on the army army chief, General Tagme Na Waie, with whom he was at loggerheads.

His swift inauguration was defended by the authorities and the west African regional economic community ECOWAS, whose commission chief Mohamed Ibn Chambas stressed the need to keep democracy alive after the conflict at the top, which initially roused fears of a latest military coup.

Guinea-Bissau, a former Portuguese colony that won independence in 1974, is among the world's poorest nations, destabilised as a transit point for cocaine smugglers between Latin America and Europe, a trade in which human rights groups have accused both politicians and the military of involvement.

Nobody has identified those responsible for either of the successive assassinations, but normal life resumed in the capital Bissau when citizens realised that it appeared to be a settling of scores, rather than an army takeover.

Defence Minister Artur Silva on Wednesday joined a chorus of government and military officials who have stressed that "the military have no intention of seizing power."

The longest-serving African leader, Gabon's President Omar Bongo Ondimba, sent a letter to Pereira in which he condemned Vieira's murder and the army chief's killing with equal "vigour and firmness".

But amid the universal condemnations, Pereira needs and has begun to seek international help to stabilise Guinea-Bissau and bring about elections.

"For the past decade, no president has ever finished his term," Pereira said Tuesday, once sworn in, issuing a plea to Portuguese-speaking nations, regional blocs such as the African Union, and the United Nations.

Portugal's deputy foreign minister, Joao Gomes Cravinho, sounded an optimistic note when he said, "There were (parliamentary) elections in November, so the census is done, and there are people who know the ropes, so I'm convinced it's feasible."

He added that Portugal would be ready to help, while diplomatic sources estimated the election budget at four million euros.

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, which has pledged to "do everything with the international community to gather resources and means necessary to see if we can hold the polls within a very, very short delay."

"It's going to be really difficult to organise elections within 60 days in Guinea-Bissau," Alioune Tine, the chairman of the Dakar-based pan-African human rights watchdog RADDHO told AFP after Pereira was sworn in.

Tine warned of "financial and logistic problems" because "the state of finances is frankly deplorable."

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