Guinea-Bissau Troops Claim to Hold President, Ex-PM Ahead of Elections

Posted April 13th, 2012 at 5:25 pm (UTC-5)
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Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau say they are holding the country's interim president and the former prime minister, ahead of a presidential election in the West African country.

A military spokesman has confirmed the detentions of former prime minister and presidential election front-runner Carlos Gomes Junior and interim President Raimundo Pereira after Thursday's attacks on their homes.

Lieutenant-Colonel Daha Bana na Walna told reporters Friday that both are “well.”

The United Nations Security Council condemned the military takeover in Guinea-Bissau and said the civilian government must be returned to power. The council issued a statement saying members strongly condemn the forcible seizure of power from the legitimate government of Guinea-Bissau by some elements of its armed forces.

Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau launched a coup attempt late Thursday, the night before campaigning was due to begin for a presidential run-off election. Mutineers took over roads, TV and radio stations, and government offices in the country's capital. They also entered homes of Mr. Pereira and Mr. Gomes, the leading presidential candidate, known to be unpopular with the military.

The unidentified coup leaders, calling themselves the Military Command, said in a statement they do not want to take power. They say they acted because of an alleged secret agreement that would allow Angolan forces to attack Guinea-Bissau's army.

The army is known for meddling in the political affairs of the former Portuguese colony. Renegade soldiers killed President Joao Bernardo Vieria in 2009.

The West African bloc ECOWAS and local African Union representative Sebastian Isata have condemned the soldiers' actions. The U.S. embassy in Senegal, which also covers Guinea-Bissau, urged the military to restore civilian leadership.

The embassy on Friday warned Americans in Guinea-Bissau to avoid the downtown area of the capital, Bissau. Witnesses say the capital was generally calm Friday, though soldiers patrolled the streets and local radio stations were off the air.

Guinea-Bissau's opposition — led by second-place finisher Kumba Yala — had called for a boycott of the April 29 presidential runoff and warned against campaigning. Yala was one of five candidates that claimed the first-round vote was rigged.

The candidates were vying to replace the late president, Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January after a long illness.

Since winning independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has struggled through a dictatorship, three coups and President Vieria's assassination. The country is also a conduit for traffickers shipping drugs to Europe.