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Guinea Bissau: Heavy gunfire heard around government palace in suspected coup

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Heavy gunfire was heard Tuesday afternoon around the government palace in Bissau, the capital of Guinea-Bissau, raising fears of a coup in the small West African country.

The government palace, where President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam were supposed to be for a special council of ministers, was surrounded by heavily armed men, AFP correspondents said. No information was available at first on the exact cause of the shooting.

The military around the government palace, on the outskirts of the city not far from the airport, kept people at bay. An AFP correspondent reported that a man with a gun ordered him to move away at gunpoint.

The area around the airport was filled with people fleeing the scene. Markets emptied and banks closed.

Numerous military vehicles loaded with soldiers drove through the streets.

The Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, said in a statement that it is following the situation “with great concern.”

“ECOWAS condemns this attempted coup and holds the military responsible for the physical integrity of President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and members of his government

“ECOWAS calls on the military to return to their barracks and maintain a republican posture,” it added.

Guinea-Bissau, a small country of about two million people bordering Senegal and Guinea, is no stranger to political coups. Since its independence from Portugal in 1974 after a long war of liberation, it has seen four putsches (the last in 2012), a string of attempted coups and a succession of governments.

Since 2014, it has moved towards a return to constitutional order, which has not prevented it from repeated turbulence, but without violence.

The country suffers from endemic corruption. It is also considered a hub for cocaine trafficking between Latin America and Europe. The armed forces play a prominent role.

Since the beginning of 2020, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, a former general, has been the head of state, following a presidential election whose result is still disputed by the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC), the dominant party since independence.

Embalo, 49, had forced his fate in February 2020 by putting on the presidential sash and taking up residence in the presidential palace, despite the persistence of the protest.

There was no public word from Embalo on Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday’s events, the cause of which is still unknown, are reminiscent of the series of putsches that have shaken West Africa since 2020: in Mali in August of that year and again in May 2021, in Guinea in September 2021 and in Burkina Faso in January of this year.

The situation in these countries was to be discussed this week at a ECOWAS summit.

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