Monday, March 02, 2009

Guinea-Bissau News Update: Military Denies Coup After the Assassinations of the President and Army Chief of Staff

Coup denied as Guinea-Bissau president assassinated

BISSAU (AFP) - - Guinea-Bissau's army denied staging a coup Monday after soldiers assassinated veteran President Joao Bernardo Vieira in apparent reprisal for a bomb blast which killed the head of the military.

The army pledged to respect "constitutional order" and called on the population to stay calm in the wake of the killings, which were roundly condemned by the international community.

Soldiers gunned Vieira down as he fled his home in the early hours of Monday following turmoil in which the army chief was killed in a bomb explosion hours before, military officials said.

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

Vieira's supporters and the army fought in the capital, Bissau, on Sunday and rocket explosions and automatic weapons fire could still be heard in the capital in the early hours of Monday before the firing subsided.

"We do not accept that people are interpreting this as a coup d'etat," Induta told journalists after senior army, air force and naval officers met for talks with Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior.

He said the army had given the prime minister guarantees that it would remain faithful to democratic principles.

Guinea-Bissau has a history of coups but under the constitution the interim leadership passes to National Assembly speaker, Raimundo Perreira, who must organise a presidential poll within 60 days.

The army said earlier the situation in the country was "under control" but warned that it would not tolerate "looters and troublemakers"

Meanwhile, the cabinet announced seven days of national mourning for both leaders and directed the public prosecutor's office to launch an inquiry into the deaths.

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.

While the country has become a notorious transit point for the cocaine trade between South America and Europe, relations between Vieira and the army have been deteriorating for months.

The killings came after weeks of mounting rivalry between the president and the military leadership.

Shortly after parliamentary elections in November, won by Vieira's party, an attack by soldiers on the office of the president -- possibly a mutiny or a coup bid -- left two people dead.

In January, the chief of staff ordered the disarming of militia in the presidential guard after claiming soldiers had tried to kill him. Tagme said members of the presidential guard had opened fire on his car in an assassination bid.

The military 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.

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

The African Union's top executive, Jean Ping, denounced Viera's assassination as a "criminal act" and said his killing had "come at a time when efforts were under way to bolster peace following the November election".

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana also condemned Vieira's killing, as did former colonial power Portugal, which called an emergency meeting of the Community of Portuguese Language Countries (CPLP).

Portugal's Prime Minister Jose Socrates offered his nation's help to the political and military authorities "to keep constitutional order."

The Economic Community of West African States -- whose leader Mohamed Ibn Chambas described the killings as "the assassination of democracy" -- will hold an emergency meeting in Bissau on Tuesday, officials said.

Guinea-Bissau, sandwiched between Senegal and Guinea, is one of the poorest countries in Africa, with a population of around 1.7 million.

The country has become a key transit point for South American cocaine en route to Europe.

A recent report by the International Crisis Group, a think tank, 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".

African Union To Discuss Guinea-Bissau Situation Tuesday

3-2-09 10:54 AM EST

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AFP)--The African Union's Peace and Security Council will hold emergency talks Tuesday to discuss the situation in Guinea-Bissau following the assassination of Joao Bernardo Vieira.

"The PSC will meet tomorrow to examine the situation. The constitution provides for power vacuums and should be respected," AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping told AFP.

"The situation remains unclear but all this was apparently orchestrated by the army. It's a coup," he said.

Guinea-Bissau soldiers gunned down the veteran president as he fled his home Monday, a military spokesman said.

The west African nation's army blamed Vieira, 69, for the death of their leader, Gen Tagme Na Waie, in a bomb attack Sunday, he said.

'I saw Bissau rocket attack'

Braima Camara is a reporter for a privately-owned radio station in Guinea-Bissau, Radio Pindiquiti.

He described to the BBC the scenes in the capital on the morning that President Joao Bernardo Vieira was killed.

Everyone is keeping indoors. The people are afraid.

Children are not at school. The shops are closing.

The military are patrolling the streets.

Everyone is waiting for news from the local radio stations.

The problem is they are not broadcasting - the military will not allow it - so nobody knows what is happening, or whether it is safe to go outside.

The government has not said who is behind this killing.

The ministers are in a meeting. We are waiting for a statement.

Some people are angry. But some are also happy.

Remember - more than 70% of people in Guinea-Bissau did not want Vieira to be president.

I cannot see much sadness in their eyes.

This is normal here. We have seen our leaders killed before.

This is a very different society.

Under mango tree

I am at the president's private house. I have been here since early this morning.

I was woken by a colleague calling me at around 5am. He said there was something going on, so I rushed here to the house, which is about 600m from the presidential palace.

When I arrived, people were running around everywhere.
I watched from a position very close to the house, under a mango tree.

I saw a rocket being fired.

The house was largely destroyed, and the soldiers entered the building.

Later, I saw the car come and take the president's body away to the hospital.

They also took one of his bodyguards, who was killed in the assault.

I spoke to a military commander who led the operation.

He said that when the soldiers entered the building, the president was still alive.

They talked to the president. They asked him if he was responsible for the killing of army chief of staff General Batista Tagme Na Wai.

The president confirmed this. He told the soldiers that he could not work with the general.

After the confession, they shot him. That is what I was told.

His wife and children were taken to the UN representative.

The soldiers are not allowing anybody into the house. I hear they have looted the building.

The hospital will not let us in to see the body.

The ministers are meeting and we are all waiting for an announcement this evening.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/02 13:16:46 GMT

Obituary: President Vieira of Guinea-Bissau

Joao Bernardo Vieira led Guinea-Bissau for more than half of its time as an independent state.

A military man, his turbulent history mirrors that of his country.

He first came to power through a military coup and has also been ousted by rival soldiers.

Widely known by his nickname "Nine", he twice won elections, before being shot dead apparently in revenge for the killing of the army chief of staff.

When he was born in 1939, Guinea-Bissau was still a Portuguese colony.

His first job was reportedly an electrician.

But in 1960, he joined the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and fought in the struggle against Portugal.

Independence was achieved in 1974 but the small country of 1.6 million people has been plagued by a history of instability and military dictatorships.

'God's gift'

President Vieira himself first came to power in the poor West African country in 1980 on the back of a military coup, while he was head of the armed forces.

As the incumbent head of state and PAIGC candidate, he was duly elected president, although the opposition cried foul.

But he was toppled in 1999 after a power-struggle sparked when he sacked the army chief - an ominous pre-cursor for his eventual death 10 years later.

He had accused the army commander, General Ansumane Mane, of allowing weapons to be smuggled to rebels in neighbouring Senegal.

Later that year, Mr Vieira was expelled from the PAIGC for "treasonable offences, support and incitement to warfare, and practices incompatible with the statutes of the party".

Following another coup in 2003, he returned from political asylum in Portugal to win the presidency again as an independent candidate in 2005.

During his campaign, Mr Vieira described himself as God's gift to the people of Guinea-Bissau - coming back to once again lead them to development and prosperity.

He won 52% of the final second round of the poll described as "calm and organised" by European monitors.

But instability continued.

In November 2008, President Vieira narrowly escaped a midnight attempt on his life when rebel soldiers attacked his house.

He was eventually shot dead just hours after army chief of staff Gen Tagme Na Waie was killed in an explosion at military headquarters.

Soldiers close to Gen Tagme blamed the president and took revenge.

Mr Vieira had failed to learn the lesson about how dangerous it is to fall out with the army chief in Guinea-Bissau.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2009/03/02 12:25:17 GMT

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