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West African bloc recognises Embalo as Guinea-Bissau president

FILE PHOTO: Guinea-Bissau Prime Minister Umaro Sissoco Embalo at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

BISSAU (Reuters) - West African regional bloc ECOWAS said on Thursday it has recognised Umaro Sissoco Embalo as the winner of Guinea-Bissau’s presidential election in an attempt to draw a line under a four-month dispute over the results.

The national electoral commission repeatedly declared former army general and prime minister Sissoco the winner of the Dec. 29 run-off vote, and outgoing President Jose Mario Vaz handed over power to him in an inaugural ceremony in February.

But ECOWAS said days later that Embalo’s inauguration had taken place “outside legal and constitutional frameworks” as runner-up Domingos Simoes Pereira continued to challenge the results before the Supreme Court.

The court has still not ruled on Pereira’s latest challenge, saying it cannot act in the absence of its chief judge, who fled the country for Portugal after the election saying he feared for his safety.

In a statement posted to its website on Thursday, ECOWAS noted the stand-off had not yet been resolved and provided no explanation for why it now saw Emablo’s presidency as legitimate.

“In the face of the persistence of this blockage and after an in-depth analysis of the country’s political situation, the ECOWAS heads of state and government decided to recognise the victory of Mr. Umaro Sissoco Emablo,” the statement said.

The post-election controversy dashed hopes that the vote would end years of institutional chaos.

Former President Vaz, who was eliminated in the first round of voting last November, cycled through seven prime ministers in five years amid a dispute with Pereira’s party, which controls the most seats in parliament.

Pereira has accused Embalo of illegally seizing power with the backing of the country’s military, which has been involved in nine coups or attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974.

Reporting by Alberto Dabo; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Bate Felix and Peter Graff