W.African bloc condemns ‘attempted coup’ in Guinea-Bissau

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  • Guinea-Bissau prone to coups and instability
  • President surrounded by military, sources say
  • Portugal urges citizens in Bissau to stay at home
  • U.N. Secretary-General Guterres ‘deeply concerned’

BISSAU, Feb 1 (Reuters) – The West African bloc ECOWAS on Tuesday condemned an ‘attempted coup’ in Guinea-Bissau, where heavy gunfire was heard near a government compound where the president had been chairing a cabinet meeting.

If confirmed, this would be the second coup in West Africa in as many weeks after the military seized power in Burkina Faso last week. read more

“ECOWAS is following with great concern the evolution of the situation in Guinea-Bissau … where military gunfire is taking place around the Government Palace,” the organisation said.

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply concerned” by the reports from Guinea-Bissau, a spokesman said.

President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and cabinet members were in the compound, surrounded by the military, according to three sources — one diplomatic, one security and one police. The president and ministers’ exact situation was unclear.

Political instability has blighted Guinea-Bissau for decades, with nine coups or attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974.

The Portuguese embassy urged its citizens in Guinea-Bissau to stay at home.

A security source with contacts inside the Government Palace said an unknown number of people had been hit by gunfire. A second source said two people were dead, but it was unclear who they were.

Normally busy streets around the Government Palace were deserted on Tuesday afternoon, a civil society activist said. An unverified video shared on social media appeared to show a man standing outside the compound firing a rocket-propelled grenade.

Members of government did not answer telephone calls from Reuters seeking verification of what was happening.

Sissoco Embalo had begun chairing an extraordinary cabinet meeting at around 10 a.m., entering the building with a heavy security detail, a diplomatic source said.

The cabinet meeting was being held to prepare for a forthcoming ECOWAS summit in response to last week’s military coup in Burkina Faso.

Embalo and his prime minister, Nuno Gomes Nabiam, have been at odds for weeks. The prime minister voiced opposition to a minor government shake-up last week in which a handful of ministers were replaced.

The country was thrown into post-election turmoil two years ago when the runner-up Domingos Simoes Pereira and his powerful PAIGC party contested the results that handed Embalo the presidency. Pereira accused Embalo of illegally seizing power with the backing of the country’s military, which he denied.

West Africa has seen a rash of coups in the last 18 months. Emboldened by popular discontent, militaries in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso have seized power, reversing democratic gains that had seen the region shed its tag as Africa’s “coup belt”.

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Reporting by Alberto Dabo in Bissau, Hereward Holland and Bate Felix in Dakar, David Lewis in Nairobi, Edward McAllister in Ouagadougou; Writing by Aaron Ross and Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Bernadette Baum

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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