After Coup, Guinea-Bissau Factions Seek Unity Government

Posted April 14th, 2012 at 12:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Guinea-Bissau's political parties are meeting in an attempt to agree on a unity government, following the coup on Thursday that disrupted an unfinished presidential vote and threw the West African nation into renewed turmoil.

In a statement, the self-styled Military Command ordered political meetings to begin and said the resulting unity government would be a transitional administration.

The coup leaders said they overthrew the civilian government because an alleged secret agreement between Guinea-Bissau and Angola authorizing authorities in Luanda to take action against Guinea-Bissau's military forces. There was no explanation or confirmation of the supposed agreement with Angola.

The streets of the capital, Bissau, were quiet and soldiers guarded public buildings on Saturday. Local radio broadcasts were suspended, and there was little information about two top political figures detained at the beginning of the coup – former prime minister and presidential frontrunner Carlos Gomes Junior and interim president Raimundo Pereira.

The two were the only candidates in a presidential runoff election that had been set for April 29. A military spokesman reported both men are well but still in custody.

Delegates from Portuguese-speaking countries have been gathering in Lisbon to discuss what to do about the upheaval in Guinea-Bissau. At the United Nations, the Security Council condemned the coup and said a civilian government must be returned to power. U.S. officials have delivered the same message.

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

Soldiers launched the coup late Thursday just hours before campaigning was due to begin for the presidential run-off election. Mutineers took over roads, TV and radio stations, and government offices in Bissau. They also entered the homes of Mr. Gomes, who is known to be unpopular with the military, and Mr. Pereira.

In their statement Friday night, the unidentified members of the Military Command renounced any interest in holding power. Their dispute with Angola was unclear, but within the past week Angola had announced that it was ending a $30 million program in Guinea-Bissau aimed at reforming the country's security sector.

The army is known for meddling in political affairs in 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 coup. The U.S. embassy in Senegal, which covers Guinea-Bissau, warned Americans there on Friday to avoid the capital's downtown area. of the capital, although the city has been reported outwardly calm, with soldiers patroling the streets and local radio stations off the air.

Guinea-Bissau's opposition, led by unsuccessful presidential challenger Kumba Yala, had called for a boycott of the April 29 presidential runoff and all campaigning. Yala was one of five candidates who claimed the first-round vote was rigged. All were vying to replace the late president Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January.