Bissau shuts air and sea space, uncertainty grows

Mon Apr 16, 2012 4:55pm GMT

By Alberto Dabo

BISSAU (Reuters) - Frightened residents fled the capital of Guinea-Bissau on Monday and some stockpiled supplies after military chiefs shut the country's air and sea space following their coup four days ago.

As uncertainty in the small impoverished West African state grew, former colonial power Portugal denounced what it called an "absolutely illegitimate military coup" and said it had dispatched a military force in case it became necessary to evacuate its citizens.

The prospect of Portuguese planes and warships appearing off the coast prompted Guinea-Bissau's military chiefs to shut the country's air and sea space to all unauthorised traffic. "Non-observance of this measure will imply a military response," a communique announcing the move said.

Ordinary people appeared to be bracing themselves for the worst as it became clear that last week's coup - in which soldiers seized the country's civilian leaders and cut short a presidential election - had created an unpredictable power vacuum.

With Guinea-Bissau's army leaders appealing for calm, banks and government offices shut down in the dilapidated coastal capital Bissau and travellers - loaded with luggage and children - packed the bus station seeking transport to what they believed would be safer locations in the interior.

"I'm worried there's going to be a war. So I'm going to my village, at Sao Domingos, I'm leaving with my five children," Djenabou Bari, a housewife in her 40s, told Reuters.

Foreign governments and organisations from around the world have roundly condemned the latest putsch by the country's notoriously unruly military, which has a history of revolts and uprisings. It has more recently been accused of involvement in drug-smuggling.

A high-level delegation from the West African regional grouping ECOWAS was due to fly into Bissau to tell military leaders their actions were "unacceptable". Military sources said the ECOWAS delegation would be authorised to enter the country.   Continued...

Soldiers stand guard during the funeral of armed forces chief of staff General Batista Tagme Na Wai at the military headquarters in Bissau, March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
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