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Guinea-Bissau President Assassinated


Military leaders in Guinea-Bissau said they will respect constitutional order after mutinous soldiers killed President Joao Bernardo Vieira early Monday.

Soldiers loyal to the slain army chief attacked the presidential palace, killing President Vieira as he tried to escape. They blamed the president for a Sunday bomb attack that killed the head of the joint chiefs of staff, General Batista Tagme Na Waie.

Soldiers set up checkpoints at strategic locations around the capital. Banks, markets, and shops closed. Private radio stations resumed broadcasts after the military shut them down overnight.

Senior officers are calling for calm, saying the situation is under control and the military is acting as the "stabilizer of public order." In a statement read on national radio, military leaders said they would not tolerate what they called "looters and troublemakers."

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes, Jr. met with senior army, air force, and naval officers following the president's death.

Gomes said he is hopeful the country can overcome this crisis. Speaking to reporters following his meeting with military leaders, the prime minister praised President Vieira as a patriot who loved his country.

Naval Commander Jose Zamora Induta told reporters that military chiefs assured the prime minister that this not a coup d'etat and the army will respect democratic principles.

Induta said the military will respect the constitution and follow the order of government succession.

Constitutional succession means National Assembly Speaker Raimundo Perreira will head the government before elections within 60 days.

The Economic Community of West African States said it is sending a delegation of regional foreign ministers to Bissau Tuesday to ensure the assembly speaker assumes interim control of government affairs.

Commander Induta said military leaders do not know who killed President Vieira and the army is hunting down what he called an isolated group of unidentified gunmen. The commander repeatedly denied any connection between the president's death and the bomb attack that killed General Waie late Sunday in a stairwell outside his office.

President Vieira was elected in 2005 following a civil war that drove him from office after 19 years in power. He survived a coup attempt in November when loyalist security forces fought off a three-hour attack on the presidential palace. That fighting led the interior ministry to recruit a 400-man militia to protect the president.

But those militiamen were disbanded last month when presidential rival Waie accused them of shooting at his car. International Crisis Group West Africa Project Director Richard Moncrieff said it is no surprise the general's supporters held the president responsible for the general's death.

"What is clear is that the soldiers who were loyal to Tagme Na Waie, who was a pretty popular guy within the army as I understand, they clearly felt that Vieira was responsible for his death. Of course, the antagonisms between the two were an open secret for a long time," he said.

This violent change of power is the latest in a series of army mutinies and coups since Guinea-Bissau's independence from Portugal in 1974.

Portugal said it will call an emergency meeting of the eight-member Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries to discuss the situation.

African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping is consulting with regional leaders on how best to address the crisis. An AU statement described the killings of President Vieira and General Waie as "cowardly and heinous attacks."

The U.S. Embassy in Senegal, which covers Guinea-Bissau, condemned the violence, calling for calm and urging all leaders to respect the rule of law and follow the established constitution order of succession.

Regional diplomats said Guinea-Bissau's instability has been made worse by Latin American drug gangs using remote airstrips along the coast to smuggle cocaine to Europe.
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