One of world’s poorest and least politically stable nations, Guinea-Bissau also a staging post for Europe-bound cocaine.
Soldiers have arrested the prime minister of Guinea-Bissau, according to a statement from the country’s military.
The statement, released on Friday, said that the army had “deposed the interim president Raimundo Pereira, the prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior and the army chief-of-staff Genreal Antonio Indjai”.
Earlier on Friday, Francelino Cunha, a spokesman for the military, told the Associated Press that Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior was being held, but did not give details on where.
The announcement comes after Salome Gomes, the prime minister’s wife, told the AFP news agency earlier in the day that her husband had been arrested by troops who attacked his residence the night before.
“He was arrested yesterday [Thursday] by some soldiers. They put him into a pickup truck and then sped off to an unknown destination,” she said.
Alain Yero Mballo, a journalist based in the capital Bissau, told Al Jazeera that there is still much confusion on the whereabouts of the prime minister.
“There is some confusion of where the prime minister is. The president was also arrested but he is now back home. We are expecting the soldiers to meet political parties to talk about a possible solution,” he said.
A communique from an unidentified military commander released on Friday said the soldiers did not want to seize power but instead were trying to halt an invasion from Angolan troops.
The whereabouts of Raimundo Pereira, the country’s interim president, remain unknown, a day after attacks rocked the tiny country’s capital.
Witnesses and diplomats in Bissau described explosions and heavy arms fires in Bissau late on Thursday night, with the home of Carlos Gomes Junior, the outgoing prime minister and presidential hopeful in runoff elections scheduled for later this month, coming under attack.
“It was attacked with rocket-propelled grenades and we were forced to retreat,” said a police officer who had been on guard at Gomes’ residence.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the body representing nations in West Africa, has called Thursday’s violence a “reprehensible coup attempt”.
An AFP correspondent reported that the military had taken control of the ruling party headquarters and national radio station, with rocket fire and shots also being heard.
|Al Jazeera reports on mortar fire inside the country’s capital|
Gomes had been expected to win a April 29 run-off election for the presidency after his challenger Kumba Yala, a former president who was overthrown in a 2003 coup, said he would boycott the polls because of irregularities in the first round of balloting.
The special election had been arranged after Guinea-Bissau’s president died in January from diabetes-related complications.
Fears of a military coup have grown since his funeral, when power was handed over to Pereira.
The chronically unstable nation has been beset by coups since its independence from Portugal in 1974, and its ruler Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira was assassinated inside his home in 2009.
Portuguese and American officials warned their citizens against travelling to the country.
“Last night there was a very large presence of the military in the streets,” Peter Thompson, the head of the UK electoral observation mission, told Al Jazeera from Bissau.
“It did seem quite co-ordinated last night in terms of how the roads were shut off … Today the streets are very calm, the city is much quieter than it normally would be. People are staying home.
“I do know that the army has taken control of the state media and state television, and they haven’t released anything official.”
Daniel Kablan Duncan, Ivory Coast’s foreign minister, told reporters after a meeting of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Ivorian capital Abidjan that the group condemned the “coup”.
“We have received some difficult information from Guinea-Bissau, and this information indicates to us that there is a coup under way,” he said.
“ECOWAS formally and rigorously condemns such an attempted coup d’etat.”
Portugal, Guinea-Bissau’s former colonial ruler, appealed for calm on Friday.
“The government is following the events in Guinea Bissau with great concern,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said.
“The Portuguese government is appealing for a halt to the violence and respect for the law.”
The five main opposition candidates, including Yala, had said during a joint news conference on Thursday evening that the boycott of the April 29 election would be in the name of justice.
The West African country has weathered successive coups, and attempted coups, since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974.
Last Saturday, the UN Security Council urged candidates and voters to “exercise restraint” and “resolve their disputes in accordance with the constitutional framework”.
They underscored the importance of successful elections to progress on peace-building priorities, including demobilising troops and police, fighting drug trafficking and promoting national reconciliation.