The international community has strongly condemned the military takeover of power in the west African nation of Guinea-Bissau two weeks before a presidential runoff election.
In Washington Saturday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement denouncing “the attempt by certain elements of the military to forcibly size power and undermine the legitimate civilian leadership of Guinea-Bissau.” The statement urges all parties to put down their weapons and restore the legitimate government.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security council issued a similar statement Friday.
Guinea-Bissau’s political parties met Saturday as ordered by coup leaders to begin discussions on the formation of a unity government. The military takeover Thursday disrupted a presidential campaign and threw the West African nation into renewed turmoil.
The coup leaders said they overthrew the civilian government because of an alleged secret agreement between Guinea-Bissau and Angola, authorizing authorities in Luanda to take action against Guinea-Bissau’s military forces. There was no explanation or confirmation of the supposed agreement with Angola.
The streets of the capital, Bissau, were quiet and soldiers guarded public buildings on Saturday. Local radio broadcasts were suspended, and there was little information about two top political figures detained at the beginning of the coup – former prime minister and presidential frontrunner Carlos Gomes, Junior and interim President Raimundo Pereira.
The two politicians were the candidates in a presidential runoff election that had been set for April 29. A military spokesman reported both men are well but still in custody.
Delegates from Portuguese-speaking countries have been gathering in Lisbon to discuss what to do about the upheaval in Guinea-Bissau. At the United Nations, the Security Council condemned the coup and said a civilian government must be returned to power. U.S. officials have delivered the same message.
Since winning independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has struggled through a dictatorship, three coups and a president’s assassination three years ago. Renegade soldiers killed President Joao Bernardo Vieira in 2009. The country also is known as a conduit for traffickers shipping drugs to Europe.
Guinea-Bissau’s opposition, led by unsuccessful presidential challenger Kumba Yala, had called for a boycott of the April 29 presidential runoff and all campaigning. Yala was one of five candidates who claimed the first-round vote was rigged. All were vying to replace the late president Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January.
The self-styled Military Command took over power Thursday after capturing former prime minister and presidential frontrunner Carlos Gomes, Junior and interim president Raimundo Pereira from their homes. The coup leaders ordered political meetings to begin and said the resulting unity government would be a transitional administration.
In their statement Friday night, the unidentified members of the Military Command renounced any interest in holding power. Their dispute with Angola was unclear, but within the past week Angola had announced that it was ending a $30-million program in Guinea-Bissau aimed at reforming the country’s security sector.
The regional 15-nation group ECOWAS promptly condemned the coup as did the former colonial power Portugal. The White House also criticized the “unconstitutional seizure of power” and praised the United Nations and ECOWAS for a prompt response