After Coup, Guinea-Bissau Factions Seek Unity Government

Posted April 14th, 2012 at 11:15 am (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.

The streets of the capital, Bissau, were quiet and soldiers guarded public buildings on Saturday. Former prime minister and presidential frontrunner Carlos Gomes Junior and interim president Raimundo Pereira both were detained by the military in the coup's first hours.

A military spokesman says both men are well, but they are still being detained.

Delegates from Portuguese-speaking countries have been gathering in Lisbon to discuss what to do about the unrest.

The United Nations Security Council condemned the military takeover and said Guinea-Bissau's civilian government must be returned to power.

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 befiore campaigning was due to begin for a presidential run-off election. Mutineers took over roads, TV and radio stations, and government offices in Bissau and also entered homes of Mr. Gomes, who is known to be unpopular with the military, and Mr. Pereira.

The unidentified coup leaders, calling themselves the Military Command, said in a statement they do not want to take power. They said 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 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 soldiers' actions. The U.S. embassy in Senegal, which also covers Guinea-Bissau, urged the military to restore civilian leadership.

On Friday the embassy warned Americans in Guinea-Bissau to avoid the 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.