Guinea-Bissau president says this week’s violence was ‘attempted coup’

Clashes between two army factions broke out on Thursday night after two government officials were freed from custody.

An empty street is seen in Bissau on December 1, 2023, following clashes between two army factions. [Photo by SAMBA BALDE / AFP]
An empty street in Bissau on Friday, following clashes between two army factions [Samba Balde/AFP]

Gunfire and clashes that erupted in the capital of Guinea-Bissau this week were an “attempted coup”, President Umaro Sissoco Embalo has said.

Clashes between the National Guard and special forces of the presidential guard broke out in Bissau on Thursday night and continued on Friday after National Guard soldiers freed two senior government officials who were detained on a corruption investigation.

The unrest in the tiny West African nation left at least two people dead.

Embalo, who was in Dubai attending the COP28 climate conference, arrived in Bissau on Saturday and said an “attempted coup d’etat” had prevented him from returning.

“I must tell you this act will have serious consequences,” he added.

Calm had returned by noon on Friday to the nation with a history of instability, following the announcement that the army had captured Colonel Victor Tchongo, the commander of the National Guard.

On Saturday, the security presence in Bissau was reduced but soldiers were still visible around certain strategic buildings such as the presidential palace, the judicial police headquarters and some ministries.

Some National Guard officers and soldiers fled into the interior of the country, the army said in a statement on Saturday, without specifying numbers.

ECOWAS condemns violence

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it “strongly condemns the violence and all attempts to disrupt the constitutional order and rule of law in Guinea-Bissau”.

“ECOWAS further calls for the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators of the incident in accordance with the law,” the Abuja-based organisation added in its statement on Saturday.

The regional bloc also expressed “its full solidarity with the people and constitutional authorities of Guinea-Bissau”.

A spokesman for United Nations chief Antonio Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, on Friday called for calm and urged the security forces and the army “to continue refraining from interference in national politics”.

Corruption allegations

The AFP news agency, quoting military and intelligence sources, said members of the National Guard on Thursday stormed a police station to free Finance Minister Souleiman Seidi and Treasury Secretary Antonio Monteiro.

The duo had been taken in for questioning on Thursday morning about the reported withdrawal of $10m from state coffers. They had been detained under orders of state prosecutors who are named by the president.

They were later detained again after the army removed them from National Guard control.

The National Guard is under the control of the interior ministry, which, like most ministries in the country, is dominated by the PAIGC party whose coalition won the June 2023 elections.

There have been at least 10 coups or attempted coups in Guinea-Bissau since independence from Portugal in 1974, with only one democratically-elected president completing a full term in office.

Embalo, who was elected to a five-year term in December 2019, survived a failed overthrow in February 2022.

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.

Source: News Agencies