Guinea-Bissau parties mull post-coup 'unity government'

AFP , Saturday 14 Apr 2012

Political powers Guinea-Bissau starts a negotiation to form a unity government upon the request of the military leaders who lead the coup

Opposition parties in Guinea-Bissau were to meet Saturday to thrash out a "unity government" after a military coup derailed presidential elections.

The talks exclude the toppled African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), whose leaders have been arrested or have fled following the Thursday putsch.

Amid growing international condemnation, the coup leaders on Friday set out terms for the "unity government," notably demanding the defence and interior portfolios.

They also imposed an overnight curfew, called on members of the toppled government to surrender and confirmed that private radio stations had been shut down.

The meeting was scheduled to start at 10:00 am (1000 GMT) at the national assembly but was delayed until later in the day as each party held its own internal discussions.

Early Saturday the capital Bissau was quiet, with the military presence markedly lower than Friday, when heavily armed soldiers patrolled the streets. Troops could be seen outside public buildings and the PAIGC headquarters.

The UN Security Council condemned the military action and urged an immediate return to civilian rule, while the United States, Canada and Nigeria were among others joining the chorus of condemnation of the coup.

Washington also issued a travel warning for Guinea-Bissau, urging American citizens "to shelter in place and avoid the downtown area of Bissau."

The African Union's commission chief Jean Ping condemned the "outrageous acts which undermine the efforts to stabilise the situation in Guinea-Bissau and tarnish the image of the country and Africa."

Current AU chair Benin weighed in Saturday, saying it "firmly and without reserve condemns the coup d'etat, which is contrary to the international commitments concerning democracy to which Guinea-Bissau has subscribed."

A statement issued in Cotonou called for a return to constitutional order and demanded "the immediate release of those detained by the soldiers involved in the coup, particularly President Raimundo Pereira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior."

Gomes, the favourite to win a second-round presidential election run-off set for April 29, was seized in a military assault on his home using rocket-propelled grenades on Thursday evening.

The military also arrested interim president Raimundo Pereira.

West African regional group ECOWAS, still grappling with a putsch and rebellion in nearby Mali, also condemned the coup.

Guinea-Bissau army chiefs summoned the leaders of the main political parties apart from the PAIGC on Friday, asking them to begin thinking about forming a new government.

"The soldiers told us ... to think about a government of national unity and its composition," one party leader, who requested anonymity, told AFP after the closed-door meeting at the former military headquarters in a southern suburb of Bissau.

Chief-of-staff General Antonio Indjai was among those who attended, although it was later announced that he had been stripped of the post he had himself seized from Jose Zamora Induta in an army mutiny in June 2010.

"The army confirms it has deposed the interim president Raimundo Pereira, the prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior and the army chief-of-staff General Antonio Indjai," the ruling "military command" said in one of its statements on Friday.

"The three are safe and sound and are under the control of the army," it said.

Gomes had garnered 49 percent of the vote in the first round of the election on March 18 and campaigning for the second round was due to start Friday.

But on Thursday evening, soldiers armed with rocket-propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles launched their power grab. Gunfire and ambulance sirens echoed through a city plunged into darkness as electricity was cut off.

Troops seized the PAIGC headquarters and the state radio station.

The coup leaders initially stated that they acted because of an alleged "secret deal" with Angola, which has 200 troops in the country to help reform Guinea-Bissau's military.

Former colonial power Portugal, condemning the coup, rejected suggestions there was anything untoward in the Angolan military presence.

Since independence in 1974, Guinea-Bissau's army and state have remained in constant, often deadly, conflict, and no president has ever completed a full term in office. Three have been overthrown and one was assassinated.

The country has also become a hub for drug-running between South America and Europe.

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