Sat, Apr 03, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Guinea-Bissau PM arrested in coup bid

TROUBLED TIMESThe African country has been overwhelmed by the drugs trade, becoming a transit point in cocaine smuggling between South America and Europe

AFP , BISSAU

Guinea-Bissau soldiers have arrested the army chief and the prime minister, at one point threatening to kill him, in an apparent coup bid in the unstable west African country.

There were varying accounts on Thursday of whether Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior had been released or whether he remained under house arrest.

But the newly designated army chief, Antonio Indjai, having earlier threatened to kill Gomes, later sought to play down the events, saying the military still answered to the political authorities.

There was international condemnation of the developments, from the UN, the US, the EU and individual European nations.

A military source said Gomes had been arrested at his office early on Thursday, taken to the former army headquarters and then brought back to his office before being escorted to his home.

“We don’t know what to do with him,” he said, adding: “There was also a reaction from some loyalist officers.”

Soldiers were visible around army barracks while hundreds of people gathered outside the government headquarters chanted: “Free Cadogo, we have had enough violence.”

The chief of defence staff General Jose Zamora Induta and 40 officers had also been arrested, the military source said.

“We led them under escort to the air base near the airport,” the source said.

Indjai, previously the deputy army chief of staff, had been named to “manage the situation” in the tiny West African country, a military source said.

National radio broadcasts were interrupted by military music, but hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the prime minister’s residence to protest his arrest.

Indjai had threatened to kill Gomes, whose popular nickname is “Cadogo,” if his supporters continued to press for his release.

“We ask you to stop anything that attracts a crowd in the streets,” the general said at a press conference.

“If you do not do this, we will have to kill Cadogo.”

An angry Indjai had also said in a brief telephone interview: “Cadogo is a criminal and he must be tried as one.”

By late Thursday, the demonstrators had dispersed.

But in a statement later broadcast on the radio, Indjai said the military would submit to the political authorities.

President Malam Bacai Sanha acknowledged that deposed army chief Induta was being detained, in a statement to Portuguese radio.

Sanha said in a statement broadcast on Portugal’s Antena 1: “There was a confusion between soldiers that reached the government, but the situation is calm.”

Gomes was at home and the deposed army chief Induta was at an airbase close to Bissau, where he was detained.

“I asked that someone be sent to go see him, to see how he’s doing,” the president said. “We are going to try to work on calming the situation and resolve the problem.”

One witness said that by late Thursday, the soldiers guarding Gomes had been replaced by police officers, whose job it was to ensure his safety. It was still unclear though as to whether or not he was being detained.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a peaceful resolution, while a statement issued by his special representative for the country spoke of the prime minister’s “detention and subsequent release.”

The former Portuguese colony has seen repeated coups since independence in 1974.

A new crisis erupted in March last year when president Joao Bernardo Vieira was murdered by troops, apparently in revenge for the killing hours earlier of the armed forces chief.

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