U.N. council condemns apparent Guinea-Bissau coup

UNITED NATIONS Fri Apr 13, 2012 3:10pm EDT

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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council condemned on Friday an apparent coup in Guinea-Bissau and urged a return to civilian leadership in the small, impoverished former Portuguese colony that has a history of bloody coups and barracks revolts.

Soldiers seized government offices and controlled main roads in the capital Bissau on Friday after attacking the former prime minister's home in an apparent coup to derail his election to the presidency of the West African country.

Council members said in a unanimously agreed statement that they "strongly condemn the forcible seizure of power from the legitimate Government of Guinea-Bissau by some elements of its armed forces. The Members of the Security Council firmly denounce this incursion by the military into politics."

"They (the Security Council) call on these elements to ensure the safety and security of interim President Raimundo Pereira, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and all senior officials currently detained and demand their immediate release," the statement said.

Briefing the Security Council earlier on Friday, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, U.N. assistant secretary-general for political affairs, said the military had arrested the prime minister and acting president and their whereabouts were unknown.

Guinea-Bissau, whose weak governance has made it a haven for Latin American drug cartels transshipping cocaine to Europe, was in the middle of electing a president to replace Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in a Paris hospital in January after an illness.

Political assassinations, health problems and meddling by an oversized military have prevented any president from serving a full term since multi-party politics began in 1994.

Guinea-Bissau, which won independence in 1974, is one of the world's most fragile and volatile states. Its main official export is cashew nuts and an ordinary Bissau Guinean lives on less than $2 a day.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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