Bissau army hold president, former premier in coup

Sat Apr 14, 2012 1:28am GMT

By Alberto Dabo

BISSAU (Reuters) - Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau have detained the country's interim president and the former prime minister, cutting short an unfinished presidential election in West Africa's second military power grab in a month.

A military spokesman confirmed the detentions of ex-premier and presidential election front-runner Carlos Gomes Junior and interim President Raimundo Pereira, following assaults by armed soldiers on their homes on Thursday evening.

"They are well," Lieutenant-Colonel Daha Bana na Walna told reporters after a meeting at army headquarters in the capital Bissau between military officers and representatives of political parties in the small, coup-prone former Portuguese colony.

"The military chiefs suggested the idea of new presidential and legislative elections," said Agnela Regalla of the Union for Change party, one of the politicians who attended the talks.

Organisations and governments, from the U.N. Security Council to the European Union, African Union and the United States and Portugal condemned the latest military interruption of civilian rule in West Africa. Portuguese Foreign Minister Paulo Portas called for the release of the detainees.

Diplomats said the putsch in Guinea-Bissau, initially claimed by a shadowy self-styled "Military Command", appeared to be an attempt to prevent an election win by Gomes Junior, the candidate of the ruling PAIGC party. He had finished top in a first round vote last month, qualifying for an April 29 run-off.

Gomes Junior was unpopular with the military because he supported an initiative to reform and downsize the bloated army, which has a history of bloody revolts and meddling in Guinea-Bissau politics since independence from Portugal in 1974.

Na Walna said Gomes Junior and Pereira, a former parliament speaker who is also a member of the PAIGC, had been removed and detained because of what he called "unease" among the country's military leaders over the ongoing electoral process.   Continued...

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