Guinea-Bissau leaders seized in coup
(CNN) — Guinea-Bissau’s military has arrested acting President Raimundo Pereira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior during an apparent coup, said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Rice, who is also the current president of the U.N. Security Council, said that the men’s whereabouts are not clear and that the council has “condemned the military action and urged the immediate restoration of civilian authority.”
The group behind the coup bid, which refers to itself the Military Command, called for a meeting with all political parties and reiterated its intention not to take power and “return” the country to normalcy, according to a military statement.
On Saturday, the foreign affairs ministers of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries, known as CPLP, will meet in Lisbon to analyze the situation and take “concerted measures” regarding Guinea-Bissau’s situation, according to a statement.
The apparent coup by military forces unfolded Friday, after gunfire and explosions rocked the capital overnight.
The African Union said it was deeply concerned about the attacks by soldiers late Thursday on the homes of Pereira and Gomes Junior in the city of Bissau.
A statement put out by the Military Command said the revolt was in response to a “secret deal” between the governments of Guinea-Bissau and Angola.
This “deal” was drawn up by the Guinea-Bissau government to allow Angolan troops in the country and mandates “Angola to attack Guinea-Bissau’s military,” a communique from the group said.
The group says that Pereira and Gomes signed the deal, and it accuses the African Union, whose rotating presidency is currently held by Angola, of also supporting intervention by Angolan forces.
Guinea-Bissau’s history has been marked by military coups and attempted coups since the nation of 1.6 million people gained independence from Portugal in 1974. The conflicts ravaged the West African nation’s infrastructure and economy, leaving it among the poorest in the world.
It is not yet known who is leading the latest coup attempt.
Lt. Col. Dabana Na Walna, the spokesman for Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces, told CNN he does not speak for the group. The chief of staff of Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces is Gen. Antonio Injai.
African Union Chairman Jean Ping condemned the army’s “blatant acts of indiscipline” and called on the military personnel involved to honor their commitment to serve the constitutional government.
Guinea-Bissau recently held the first round of voting in its presidential election, with campaigning for the second round about to begin. The election was prompted by the death of the incumbent president in January.
The residence of Gomes Junior, the prime minister and also a presidential candidate, was looted, witnesses said, as were the homes of some of his ministers, including Interior Minister Fernando Gomes.
Another communique from the Military Command called for calm and advised people in the capital “to refrain from acts of violence and vandalism that could jeopardize the order.”
The country’s public media outlets are under the control of the army and are regularly broadcasting statements from the military, witnesses said Friday.
A number of Angolan troops are present in Guinea-Bissau under a bilateral agreement, on a mission to help reform the country’s armed forces, Angola said.
Angola, also a former Portuguese colony, issued a statement earlier this week stating its intention to unilaterally withdraw its troops.
The U.S. Embassy in Senegal said the situation in Guinea-Bissau is unclear, but it is closely monitoring events. It urged U.S. citizens to remain where they are and avoid downtown Bissau.
“We are disheartened by the negative turn of events so soon after the first round of Guinea-Bissau’s presidential election. We are deeply concerned about the safety of all those in Bissau today, and urge all parties to put down their weapons and restore legitimate civilian leadership.”
Elisabete Azevedo-Harman, a professor of politics at the Catholic University of Portugal and Mozambique currently in Bissau, told CNN she heard gunfire and explosions Thursday night, chiefly in the area of the prime minister’s residence.
Soldiers and police remained on the streets of the capital Friday, but in smaller numbers than the night before, she said. People were starting to venture out again, she added.
President Malam Bacai Sanha, 64, died in January after a long illness, triggering the presidential election. The first round of voting in March did not produce a clear winner.
The nation’s former head of intelligence was shot dead in the capital hours after the first round concluded, but the vote was otherwise peaceful.
Sanha became president in September 2009, months after the assassination of his predecessor.
Despite his coming to power in what international observers deemed a fair and peaceful election, his tenure was marked by turmoil among the country’s military and political leadership.
To date, no democratically elected president has served a full, five-year term.
CNN’s Umaro Djau, David McKenzie, Laura Perez Maestro and Zarifmo Aslamshoyeva contributed to this report.
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