Gunfire broke out near Guinea-Bissau’s presidential palace overnight and continued on Friday morning after soldiers freed a minister from the main opposition party detained for suspected misuse of public funds, Reuters reporters and a police source said.
Gunshots were first heard around 23H00 GMT about two kilometres away from the presidential palace. An apparent exchange of fire was also heard after midnight in the neighbourhood of Antula, on the outskirts of the capital, where an army general lives.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
Military vehicles were on the streets on Friday morning as residents commuted to work and school. Gunshots could still be heard but were less frequent than during the night. Another reporter heard gunshots not far from the presidential palace.
According to the AFP, quoting military and intelligence sources, members of the National Guard freed finance minister Souleiman Seidi and treasury secretary Antonio Monteiro from police custody. The duo had been taken in for questioning on Thursday morning about the reported withdrawal of $10m from state coffers.
Their whereabouts are currently unknown.
Seidi is a member of the former ruling PAIGC party, which leads the coalition that won a majority in legislative elections in June.
The gunfire was between soldiers in the Guard and special forces.
Later on Friday, a spokesman to Guinea-Bissau’s army chief of staff said the leader of the security forces unit involved in the overnight clashes has been apprehended.
“Colonel (Victor) Tchongo is in our hands. The situation is completely under control,” Captain Jorgito Biague told AFP.
A season of coups
Meanwhile, Embalo is attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, where he is expected to speak later on Friday.
There have been at least 10 coups or attempted coups in Guinea-Bissau since independence from Portugal in 1974. Only one democratically elected president has completed a full term in the West African nation south of Senegal.
At least six people were killed during a failed attempt to overthrow President Umaro Sissoco Embalo in February last year. At the time, Embalo suggested it was linked to the government’s fight against drug trafficking rather than an army plan to seize power.
“It wasn’t just a coup. It was an attempt to kill the president, the prime minister and all the cabinet,” he said at the time after gunfire that reportedly lasted five hours after the presidential palace was surrounded by heavily armed men.
West Africa has been hit by multiple military takeovers over the past three years, including two in Mali, one in Guinea, two in Burkina Faso and one in Gabon.
Sierra Leone’s government pushed back a military attempt to overthrow it over the weekend. More than 20 people were killed as gunmen in the capital, Freetown, attacked military barracks, a prison, and other locations on Sunday, freeing about 2,200 inmates.