BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea-Bissau’s main political party on Saturday defied the military chiefs who overthrew civilian leaders in a coup this week, rejecting the army’s proposal to form a transitional government leading to elections.
The position taken by the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), which holds two-thirds of the seats in the West African nation’s parliament, makes it virtually impossible for the military to form any kind of really representative administration following Thursday’s coup.
“The PAIGC rejects any anti-constitutional or anti-democratic proposal of a solution to this crisis,” the party’s leadership said in a statement.
It also demanded that the military release interim President Raimundo Pereira and former Prime Minister and presidential front-runner Carlos Gomes Junior, both PAIGC leaders, who were detained by soldiers who assaulted their homes late on Thursday.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has led global condemnation of the military putsch in the poor, volatile former Portuguese colony and he called for civilian rule to be restored. It was the second such military power grab in West Africa in a month, following a coup in Mali in March that has raised fears of worsening instability in the region.
Meeting in Lisbon, the Community of Portuguese-speaking Countries (CPLP), which counts Guinea-Bissau among its members, condemned the events in Bissau. It backed the idea of a U.N.-mandated intervention force for Guinea-Bissau to be formed with the cooperation of the African Union and the European Union.
Thursday’s Guinea-Bissau coup cut short an unfinished presidential election which Gomes Junior appeared almost certain to win and the country’s armed forces ordered political parties to set up an administration leading to fresh elections.
In its statement, the PAIGC demanded respect for the constitution and democratically elected institutions.
The coastal capital Bissau was calm on Saturday, but citizens spoke out against the coup in one of the world’s poorest and most fragile states. The main official export is cashew nuts and most people live on less than $2 a day.
“We’re not going to accept instability, the military must restore power to civilians and go back to the barracks,” said 20-year-old Kemo Djassi.
Members of Guinea-Bissau’s previous civilian government were either detained or still in hiding. Reached by telephone, Interior Minister Fernando Gomes answered with a terse “no” when asked if he could talk safely. He then hung up.
Thursday’s coup, which saw soldiers blasting Gomes Junior’s house with rocket-propelled grenades, appeared to have caused little bloodshed. It occurred before a presidential election run-off was due to be held on April 29.
The expected winner, Gomes Junior, was unpopular with military chiefs because he backed an initiative to reform and downsize the bloated army, which is accused of involvement in drug-trafficking by western security agencies.
Faced with massive international condemnation, Guinea-Bissau’s military will find it difficult to find any friends, or donors to back security sector reform or fight drug-trafficking.
“How are they going to make it acceptable in the eyes of the international community? There is a void now and I can’t see them filling it,” one Bissau-based diplomat told Reuters.
Organisations and governments, from the United Nations, the European Union and the African Union to the United States and former colonial ruler Portugal, have roundly condemned the latest military interruption of civilian rule in West Africa.
There was still confusion over who exactly had led or ordered the detentions of Gomes Junior and Pereira on Thursday.
A shadowy self-styled “Military Command”, whose leaders are still not known, said it acted to head off what it alleged was a secret pact between Gomes Junior and Angola to “annihilate Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces”.
Angola, which due to its oil wealth is much richer than Guinea-Bissau, had been providing military trainers and advisers to the smaller state in a military cooperation mission. But it announced a few days ago that it was ending the mission.
Asked who was leading Guinea-Bissau’s military, spokesman Lt-Col Daha Bana na Walna told Reuters the so-called Military Command behind the uprising had been “dissolved” and the armed forces leadership was taking charge of the political transition.
He declined to confirm rumours that armed forces Chief of Staff General Antonio Indjai had also been removed, saying only that Indjai was “secure, safe and sound”.
In Lisbon, Guinea-Bissau’s foreign minister, Mamadu Djalo Pires, told SIC TV he did not believe rumours that Indjai had also been detained. “We think that it is a farce and that he is at the origin of this coup,” Pires said.
Guinea-Bissau’s weak political class have lived for years under the threat of meddling by the military, which has a history of bloody coups and revolts since independence from Portugal in 1974.
When the coup occurred, the country was in the middle of electing a president to replace Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in a Paris hospital in January after an illness.