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Guinea-Bissau Speaker Takes Oath as New President


Guinea-Bissau's new interim president is calling on his people to help restore stability to the nation, a day after the assassination of President Joao Bernardo Vieira. National Assembly speaker Raimundo Perreira took the oath of office as president Tuesday during a special session of parliament. He told lawmakers he will serve until new elections can be organized.

Regional diplomats are hopeful the constitutional transition will head off further violence.

Mr. Perreira is interim leader in keeping with the order of constitutional succession following President Vieira's murder. He will lead Guinea-Bissau until new elections within 60 days.

Much of life in the capital returned to normal Tuesday with shops and banks reopened and fewer military checkpoints.

Army leaders blame an isolated group of soldiers for killing the president. Naval commander Jose Zamora Induta told reporters the president's killing was not related to Sunday's murder of Mr. Vieira's rival, armed forces chief of staff General Batista Tagme Na Waie.

Induta said the military has assured civilian leaders that this is not a coup d'etat, and the army will respect democratic principles.

Portugal's deputy foreign minister is in Bissau Tuesday for talks with civilian and military leaders along with a delegation of foreign ministers from the Economic Community of West African States.

"The region wishes to see constitutional legality very quickly established," he said.

"The purpose of the visit is to ensure that there is constitutional succession in Guinea-Bissau and that the country can put the unfortunate events of the last few days behind it quickly and stay on the track of democratic development," said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, executive secretary of the regional ECOWAS alliance.

So far, Chambas says regional leaders are encouraged by the military's respect for rule of law and the government's creation of a commission of inquiry into the murder of the president and the general.

"We cannot just ignore that and turn a page and pretend that these were not egregious crimes," he said. "That would be condoning impunity if we did that. And we must be seen to be fighting impunity."

The current head of the regional alliance, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua says the already fragile political situation in Guinea-Bissau has been further weakened by the twin killings.

The former Portuguese colony has become a major transit point for Latin American drug gangs shipping cocaine to Europe.

Guinea-Bissau also has its own history of ethnic tensions between the majority Balanta, who control the army, and the minority Papel who gained commercial and political influence through President Vieira.

Several hundred Papel refugees have already crossed the border into Senegal saying they fear reprisals from the Balanta military following the bomb blast that killed General Waie in a stairwell outside his office.

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