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Guinea-Bissau: Coup attempt fails after gunfire in capital

February 2, 2022

Guinea-Bissau's president said the situation is now under control after gunmen launched an assault on a government palace in the capital. The West African bloc ECOWAS has condemned the attack, along with the UN.

A soldier patrols the government palace area
An unknown number of security forces were killed during the hours-long attack in Guinea-Bissau's capital Image: AFPTV teams/AFP/Getty Images

Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo said stability was restored on Tuesday, after a suspected coup attempt in the country's capital, Bissau.

The remarks came after heavy gunfire was heard for several hours in the capital. The attack also comes on the heels of a spate of coups in the region in Burkina Faso, Mali and other African nations.

What did the president say?

Embalo told the media that officials were taking part in a meeting at a government palace, when assailants with AK-47 rifles launched an attack on the building. 

The president said the situation is now "under control" after an "attack on democracy." He said "many" members of the security forces were killed in the nearly five hour assault. 

"Our republican defense and security forces were able to stop this evil," Embalo said.

He said the attack "has to also do with our fight against narco trafficking" though it's unclear who is exactly behind the assault.

President Umaro Sissoco Embalo speaks to the media in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau after a reported coup attempt
President Umaro Sissoco Embalo spoke with reporters, saying the coup attempt had been thwarted — but it was unclear what group was behind the attemptImage: Radio Bantaba/REUTERS

Regional groups swiftly condemned the violence, giving credence to fears that an armed group had attempted to take over the West African nation once more.

People were seen fleeing the area on the edge of Bissau, near the airport. Local markets were closed and banks shut their doors, while military vehicles laden with troops drove through the streets.

Guinea-Bissau has experienced four coup d'etats and more than a dozen attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974.

The country's state broadcaster reported earlier that the shooting had damaged the building and that "invaders'' were holding officials hostage.

ECOWAS, AU condemn violence

The regional bloc ECOWAS and the African Union issued swift rebukes of the military.

"The President of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, is following with grave concern the situation in Guinea-Bissau, consisting of an attempted coup against the country's government," the AU said in a statement.

"He calls on the military to return to their barracks without delay and to protect the physical safety of President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and members of his government and to immediately free those of them who are in detention," it said.

In its own statement, ECOWAS said it "condemns this coup attempt and holds the military responsible for the bodily integrity of President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and the members of his government." 

Portugal's foreign ministry also condemned the attack and called for respect for constitutional order.

President Embalo has been at the center of controversy since he was declared the winner of the December 2019 runoff vote. The results were contested by his opponent, Domingos Simoes Pereira.

Embalo started forming a new government with support from the military while a Supreme Court election challenge was still pending.

Guinea-Bissau has long suffered from official corruption, as well as the violence that comes with drug trafficking. Because of graft and lax law enforcement, the country is used as a transit point for cocaine on the way to Europe from South America.

wd, es/nm (AP, Reuters)