March 3, 2009 / 4:23 PM / 10 years ago

Bissau to swear in new leader after president killed

* Parliamentary speaker to take oath as interim president

* Envoys fly in

* Army controls strategic locations in capital

* Army says no coup, will respect democratic institutions



By Alberto Dabo BISSAU, March 3 (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau’s National Assembly speaker Raimundo Pereira will take the oath as interim head of state on Tuesday after the assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira, a parliamentary communique said.

Vieira was killed in his home on Monday in an apparent revenge attack for the death on Sunday of a key rival, armed forces chief General Batista Tagme Na Wai, throwing the tiny and unstable West African state into confusion.

Envoys from West Africa and Portuguese-speaking nations, including Angola, Sao Tome and Principe and Cape Verde, flew to the capital Bissau on Tuesday in a bid to avert a possible coup or further unrest.

The army has denied any wish to seize power but soldiers guarded strategic locations in the city and it was unclear who controlled the poor former Portuguese colony of 1.6 million, where drug traffickers have fuelled years of instability.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council decided not to suspend Bissau as the attacks did not represent a coup d’etat. Neighbouring Guinea was suspended from the AU after a coup in December following the death of its president.

"The African Union appeals urgently to the political parties and actors of this country to exercise restraint and refrain from plunging the country once again into a spiral of power struggle," the continental body said in a statement earlier.

"The African Union underscores the need to make every effort to avoid the use of violence and power-grabbing as a means of settling disputes," it said, adding it would send an envoy to Bissau "to assess the situation and prevent it from worsening".

Senior envoys from Portuguese-speaking countries, including Portuguese State Secretary for Foreign Relations and Cooperation Joao Gomes Cravinho, arrived in Bissau on Tuesday.

"We maintain constant telephone contact, but actually being there sends a different kind of a signal and gives another opportunity to talk. At this moment there is no indication of a need for any international or military force for Guinea-Bissau," Cravinho said on Portugal’s SIC television before he set off.



UNCERTAIN CALM

Life in Bissau began to return to normal, with some shops reopening up on Tuesday.

Local radio stations resumed broadcasts. The army had ordered them to stop broadcasting on Sunday after Na Wai was killed in an explosion at the military headquarters.

Parliamentary Speaker Pereira becomes president for a limited period pending elections under the constitution, which the armed forces have promised to respect.

"We have come here to reiterate to the government that this is no coup d’etat and that is not the intention of the military," Frigate Captain Jose Zamora Induta, the deputy head of the Navy and spokesman for the Armed Forces Officers’ Commission, said on Portugal’s RDP Africa radio late on Monday.

The twin killings have removed two of the most powerful figures in Bissau’s recent history. The country has suffered repeated bouts of civil unrest, military revolt and coups since winning independence in 1974 after a bloody conflict.

Vieira, a guerrilla commander in the independence war, seized power in a coup in 1980. He was deposed by a military junta that included Na Wai in 1999 following a brief civil war, and was elected back into power in 2005.

Vieira’s wife took refuge in the Bissau embassy of fellow former Portuguese colony Angola, and Angolan public radio reported that she had requested asylum in Portugal. (Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa, Henrique Almeida in Luanda and David Lewis in Dakar; writing by Alistair Thomson; editing by Matthew Tostevin)





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