Guinea-Bissau witnesses attempted coup – president
Deadly violence erupted between two factions of the army in Guinea-Bissau late last week, in what the West African country’s president, Umaro Mokhtar Sissoco Embalo, has denounced as a coup attempt.
Gunfire broke out near the presidential palace in the capital, Bissau, on Thursday night when the special forces of the presidential guard clashed with members of the National Guard, who had reportedly freed two government officials who’d been detained as part of a corruption investigation.
The National Guard stormed a police station to release Finance Minister Souleiman Seidi, an opposition party member, and Treasury Secretary Antonio Monteiro, AFP news agency reported, citing army and intelligence sources.
The two officials had been detained earlier on Thursday at the behest of state prosecutors after they were taken in for questioning about an alleged withdrawal of $10 million from state accounts. The National Guard later relinquished Seidi and Monteiro and they were taken into custody again, according to the outlet.
At least two people were killed in the unrest that continued on Friday, according to the Guinea-Bissau army.
In a statement issued on Friday, the army accused the head of the National Guard, Victor Tchongo, of masterminding the incident. Tchongo was arrested earlier on Friday but has since been released, according to a police source quoted by Reuters.
Embalo returned to Bissau on Saturday after leaving for Dubai to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP28, and told reporters that an "attempted coup d'etat" had blocked him from returning.
“I can assure you that the events of December 1, 2023, are yet another attempted coup and those responsible will suffer serious consequences,” Embalo said.
Guinea-Bissau has seen a series of military takeovers, most recently in 2012, as well as several coup attempts since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974.
Embalo, a former army general who was elected to a five-year term in December 2019, survived a failed overthrow of his government in February last year. At least six people were killed in the foiled coup.
On Saturday, the president of the West African country of just over two million people likened the events of last week’s attempted coup to those last year.
"On February 1, 2022, we witnessed the same scenario. We still need to put an end once and for all to these upheavals in Guinea-Bissau," Embalo said.
The West African regional bloc (ECOWAS) has "strongly" condemned the unrest in Bissau, as well as all efforts to undermine the member country's constitutional order and rule of law.
“ECOWAS further calls for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of the incident, in accordance with the law,” the bloc said in a statement on Saturday.
Multiple military takeovers have occurred in West Africa in recent years, including two in Mali, one in Guinea, two in Burkina Faso, and the latest in Niger in July.
Sierra Leonean authorities claimed last week that a group of soldiers and police officers had launched a series of attacks on military facilities and prisons in an attempt to overthrow the civilian government. According to the West African nation's Information Minister, Chernor Bah, at least 21 people were killed in the incident.