Monday, March 02, 2009

Guinea-Bissau News Bulletin: President Joao Bernardo Vieira and General Tagme Na Waie Assassinated

Guinea-Bissau president 'assassinated'

BISSAU (AFP) - - Guinea Bissau soldiers gunned down veteran president Joao Bernardo Vieira as he fled his home early on Monday following turmoil in which the army chief was blown up and killed, a military spokesman said.

The West African nation's army blamed Vieira, 69, for the death of their leader, General Tagme Na Waie, in a bomb attack on Sunday, military spokesman, Zamora Induta, told AFP.

Vieira, one of the leaders of Guinea-Bissau's fight against Portuguese rule, led the impoverished country from 1980 to 1999 and then became president again in 2005 until his death. Relations with the army had been tense for months.

"President Vieira was killed by the army as he tried to flee his house which was being attacked by a group of soldiers close to the head of the chief of staff, Tagme Na Waie, early this morning," the spokesman said.

Vieira was "taken down by bullets fired by these soldiers," he said.

Induta added that the president was "one of the main people responsible for the death of Tagme" who was killed in a bomb attack on the military headquarters in Bissau on Sunday night.

The country is one of the poorest in Africa, and is considered a key transit point for South American cocaine heading to Europe, but the army spokesman said the killing of the president presented an opportunity to turn over a new leaf.

"The country will start up now. This man had blocked any momentum in this small country," Induta said.

The assassination comes after weeks of mounting rivalry between the president and the military leadership, with the country's navy chief accused of attempting to overthrow the government last year.

Vieira's supporters and the army fought in the capital, Bissau, on Sunday and rocket explosions and automatic weapon fire could be heard in the capital early Monday.

Guinea-Bissau has suffered repeated political unrest and coups since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974.

In January, the chief of staff ordered the disarming of militiamen in the presidential guard after claiming soldiers had tried to kill him. About 100 assault rifles and four RPG rocket launchers were subsequently recovered from the militiamen.

And shortly after parliamentary elections in November, a mystery attack by a group of soldiers on the office of the president -- possibly a mutiny or a coup bid -- left two people dead.

The bomb attack which killed Tagme came as the general was in his office.

One of the general's bodyguards said the bomb was placed under the stairway leading to Tagme's office and the blast destroyed a large part of the main headquarters building, where his office was located.

Five other people were wounded in the blast.

The country's weak state institutions have been undermined in recent years by its emerging status as a key transit point for South American cocaine en route to Europe.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group, a thinktank, said some soldiers had become involved in drugs smuggling and were opposed "to a reform that could force them into retirement and cut them off from lucrative drugs trafficking income".

Vieira took power in a bloodless coup in 1980 and ruled until 1999 with support from the army and hos African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).

He went into exile following a civil war, before returning in 2004 and being re-elected a year later.

The legislative elections on November 16 were won comfortably by Vieira's party but they were denounced as rigged by the opposition.

Guinea-Bissau president shot dead

Renegade soldiers have shot dead the president of the West African country of Guinea-Bissau, officials say.

The killing of Joao Bernardo Vieira is thought to been a revenge attack, after the army chief of staff died in an explosion a few hours earlier.

The army denies there is a coup, and the capital Bissau is said to be quiet.

Guinea-Bissau is one of the world's poorest states. It has a history of coups and has become a major transit route for smuggling cocaine to Europe.

"President Vieira was killed by the army as he tried to flee his house which was being attacked by a group of soldiers close to the chief of staff Tagme Na Waie, early this morning," military spokesman Zamora Induta told AFP news agency.

He accused Mr Vieira of being responsible for the death of the army chief of staff, with whom he had fallen out.


Braima Camara, a reporter from privately-owned Radio Pindiquiti in Bissau, told the BBC News website the president had been killed at his private house, not far from the presidential palace.

He said military officials had told him the president was shot dead in retaliation after he admitted giving the orders for Gen Tagme to be killed.

The president's house was largely destroyed in the assault and later looted by soldiers, he said.

1939: Born
Electrician by trade
Key figure in struggle against Portuguese colonial rule
1980: Came to power in coup, as head of armed forces
1994: Won country's first multi-party elections
1999: Overthrown after sacking army chief
2005: Returned from asylum to win presidential election

He added that the military had taken the president's wife and family to the UN representative in Bissau.
Chief of staff Gen Tagme died after a blast late on Sunday that destroyed part of the military headquarters.

The army then ordered two private radio stations in the city to cease broadcasting.

Armed forces spokesman Samuel Fernandes told reporters at one station: "We are going to pursue the attackers and avenge ourselves".

But in a statement on state radio following Mr Vieira's death, the military insisted no coup was in progress. The armed forces statement said the military would respect the constitutional order - in which the head of the parliament succeeds the president in the event of his death.

The president and army chief are said to have been at odds for months.

Renegade soldiers last November attacked the presidential palace with automatic weapons in a failed coup attempt.
The African Union, the European Union and former colonial ruler Portugal condemned the killing of 69-year-old Mr Vieira - nicknamed "Nino" - as did Mohamed Ibn Chambas from the regional economic bloc Ecowas.

"The death of a president, of a chief of staff, is very grave news," Mr Chambas told AFP.

"It's not only the assassination of a president or a chief of staff, it's the assassination of democracy," he said.

The AU is reportedly arranging an emergency meeting to review the situation.

Plagued by coups

After last November's attack, the president was subsequently given his own 400-strong militia for protection.

In January, that militia was accused of trying to kill the head of the army and was then disbanded.

Guinea-Bissau has been plagued by coups and political unrest since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974.

President Vieira, just like the country's previous leaders, relied on the army to stay in power, and personal rifts made it a rocky relationship, the BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross says.

Guinea-Bissau - a major transit point for Latin American cocaine headed for Europe - has also been destabilised by the effects of drug trafficking.

Some officials in the army are known to have become involved in the trade, our correspondent says.

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Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/02 12:40:56 GMT

Guinea Bissau: President, Army Chief Assassinated

2 March 2009

Both Guinea Bissau's president and its army chief have been assassinated within hours of one another, apparently as a result of rivalry between them, news agencies reported Monday.

President João Bernardo Vieira of Guinea Bissau was killed by soldiers, a military spokesman told Agence France-Presse.

Spokesman Zamora Induta told AFP: "President Vieira was killed by the army as he tried to flee his house which was being attacked by a group of soldiers close to the chief of staff Tagme Na Waie, early this morning."

Tagme, Guinea Bissau's military leader, had been killed in a bomb attack on army headquarters in Bissau on Sunday. Induta alleged to AFP that Vieira was "one of the main people responsible" for Tagme's killing.

Later on Monday, the Associated Press reported Luis Sanca, a security adviser to Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., as confirming Vieira's death.

Guinea Bissau has long been unstable, its ruling elite at odds and riven by alleged assassination and coup plots.

Last November, elements of the military launched an unsuccessful attack on the president's residence soon after elections.

The International Crisis Group recently described the country's institutions as "structurally feeble" and warned that there was a permanent threat of military intervention in politics.

Gunfire, rockets in Guinea-Bissau after army chief killed

BISSAU, (AFP) - - Rocket explosions and automatic weapons were heard in Guinea-Bissau's capital early Monday, after the chief of staff of the country's armed forces was killed in a bomb attack.

"A burst of gunfire from Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers was reported overnight until about 0430 GMT in different parts of Bissau," a local resident told AFP when contacted by telephone.

"We don't know anything about who was firing or why," he said, adding that soldiers have been deployed around the military headquarters.

Other witnesses said the gunfire came from the centre of the capital.

On Sunday, General Tagme Na Waie was killed in an attack on military headquarters, three months after an assault on the presidential residence.

The general had said earlier this year that he had been targeted in a previous assassination attempt, highlighting the chronic instability of this west African country.

"The general was in his office when the bomb went off," his aide, Lieutenant Colonel Bwam Nhamtchio, told AFP by telephone, crying as he spoke.

"He was gravely wounded and did not survive his injuries.

"This is a loss for all of us," he said, adding that five others were hurt in the evening blast -- two of them seriously.

One of the general's bodyguards, speaking anonymously to AFP, said the bomb was placed under the stairway leading to Na Waie's office and the blast -- at around 8 pm (2000 GMT) -- resulted in the collapse of a large part of the main headquarters building, where his office was located.

"It was 7:45 when we arrived at the headquarters building," the bodyguard said by telephone.

"The chief of staff headed upstairs. He had just reached the first steps when the bomb was triggered. He was mortally injured."

The bodyguard continued: "One of my colleagues who was carrying his bag was seriously wounded."

Immediately after the explosion, a group of officers led by Major Samuel Fernandes told local radio stations to suspend their programmes immediately, journalists said.

"Stop the programmes, close your stations until we have all the news about what happened at the army headquarters," Fernandes was quoted as saying.

"It's also for the personal safety of you journalists."

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Monday called an emergency meeting of the government to "follow the situation," his office told AFP.

The country's president Joao Bernardo Vieira also met overnight with army officers to learn the details of the deadly attack.

The bombing is the latest in a series of acts of violence committed in the past four months amid deep disagreements between the army, the presidency and the ministry of internal administration.

On November 23, a group of military men carried out a night attack on the president's residence, killing two guards.

In early January, Na Waie said he escaped an assassination attempt when sentries opened fire at his car as it passed the presidential palace.

At the time his office demanded that all soldiers guarding the presidency, forming a "militia," should be sacked.

Three soldiers were arrested belonging to a group called "aguentas," formed in Conakry during the 1998-1999 civil war in Guinea-Bissau to support Vieira, who was then facing an uprising by part of his army.

Guinea-Bissau has experienced a wave of coups, attempted coups and mutinies since its independence from Portugal in 1974.

In recent years it has become a hub for South American drug traffickers en route to Europe, a trend which experts say has further undermined the already weak state institutions.

Na Waie's predecessor, General Verissimo Correia Seabra, was shot dead by soldiers in October 2004.

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