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West African Leaders Meet Over Guinea-Bissau Crisis


Guinea-Bissau interim Prime Minister Carlos Gomes
West African heads of state are in Guinea-Bissau to discuss fears of violence following the announcement by deposed former leader Kumba Yalla that he remained the legitimate head of state and that June presidential elections should be canceled. Interim prime minister Carlos Gomes has accused opposition parties of threatening the lives of the country's military leadership.

The head of the West African political bloc ECOWAS, Niger's President Mamadou Tandja was greeted at the airport in the capital Bissau by members of Guinea-Bissau's government.

They hope that a delegation of regional leaders, led by Mr. Tandja and expected to include Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade, will help diffuse an escalating threat of violence in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled for June 19.

The leaders will meet with Guinea-Bissau's military rulers, government official, and members of civil society.

Nearly a week after the announcement by deposed leader Kumba Yalla that elections should be canceled and he should be reinstated as president, Guinea-Bissau's Prime Minister Carlos Gomes used a press conference late Friday to accuse members of the opposition of plotting against the government.

Mr. Gomes told reporters he had credible intelligence reports that unnamed elements were plotting to eliminate the heads of the army and national police, as well as himself. He added that his government would crush any attempt to destabilize the country during, what he called, its march towards democracy and sustainable development.

Human rights activist Macaria Barai says she is hopeful that the visit by West African leaders will help resolve the situation.

"I think that the problem of Guinea-Bissau is the problem of all of us," she said. "Its not an individual problem. Its the problem of the military. Its the problem of politicians. Its the problem of civil society."

Ms. Barai says violence has never accomplished anything for the country in the past and now is the time for dialogue.

"We have to talk, because there are many problems that we live, that we have to talk [about] and find solutions," she said. "Let us first identify our problems."

Guinea-Bissau's military leadership, which overthrew Mr. Kumba Yalla in a coup in 2003, says that they will not back the former ruler's claim to power. And thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Tuesday to protest the announcement.

Supporters of Mr. Kumba Yalla say they are organizing a march of their own Sunday to show support for their leader. Government officials have said that the proposed protest is illegal.

One man on the streets of Bissau says people in the West African nation have rejected Mr. Kumba Yalla's announcement. He says he thinks Guinea-Bissau has finally moved beyond the cycle of coups and military regimes that have marked much of its history since independence.

"If you want to be president, you have to be voted," he said. "So to declare to be president, that is not good, because we are in a democratic country. So, even members of his party behind him, they can do nothing."

Guinea-Bissau's Supreme Court approved Mr. Kumba Yalla's candidacy earlier this month despite a charter designed to guide the country back to democracy that banned him from politics for five years. Representatives of his party said Friday he had no plans to meet with the visiting delegation.

The other main candidate in next months polls is ex-military leader, Joao Bernardo Nino Vieira, who himself was overthrown in a coup in 1999 after 18 years in power.