SNAP ANALYSIS: Bissau killings herald high-risk transition

DAKAR (Reuters) - The killing of Guinea-Bissau President Joao Bernardo Vieira on Monday could set the scene for yet another tortuous and high-risk transition in the impoverished country, where drug money has worsened insecurity.

Vieira, a former military ruler known as “Nino” who was voted back to power in contested elections in 2005, was killed by soldiers at his home in the capital Bissau early on Monday.

** Security sources said Vieira’s assassination appeared to be in revenge for that hours earlier of armed forces chief of staff General Batista Tagme Na Wai, from the biggest Balante ethnic group, which dominates much of military life. Vieira was from the smaller Pepel tribe.

** Ethnic divisions have been a key factor in years of coups and civil conflict. Na Wai served in a junta which ousted Vieira from power in 1999.

** Bitter rivalry between the two, which went back to a 1980s army uprising against Vieira’s rule, has dominated politics for years.

** The growing presence of Latin American drugs gangs has further polarized the ruling elite, with some senior political and security service officials complicit in trafficking.

** Vieira’s and Na Wai’s deaths leaves space for other political leaders to emerge, but also opens the prospect of intensified infighting between potential successors.

** Their deaths may also open the way for a return by political and military figures sidelined in the power struggles of recent years.

** Raimundo Pereira, the speaker of the National Assembly, would succeed Vieira under the constitution for a limited period pending presidential elections.

** Vieira’s and Na Wai’s removal could leave Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior, head of the PAIGC party which dominates parliament, in a relatively strong position. Government ministers called an emergency meeting on Monday.

** The armed forces command pledged to respect democratic institutions. It also said it had already created a commission of military chiefs to manage the crisis, although it did not say whether that meant at a national level or purely within forces.

** The note was signed by Frigate Captain Jose Zamora Induta, the deputy Navy chief, whom sources in the region tipped as a possible successor to Na Wai as overall armed forces chief.

** Guinea-Bissau is awash with guns and combatants from a brief 1998-99 civil war. The armed forces are also in dire need of reform and down-sizing, a process the European Union has already started assisting though progress is slow.

** Democratic rule has repeatedly been attacked. Vieira legitimized his rule with an election in 1994 only to be overthrown five years later after a civil war. A president elected in 2000 lasted barely three years before the army again seized power, and orderly parliamentary elections last November were quickly followed by an attack on Vieira.

Editing by Matthew Tostevin