Sustained gunfire was heard near the government headquarters in the West African coup state of Guinea-Bissau on Tuesday, AFP reporters said, as a regional bloc condemned what it called an “attempted coup”.
The building is located on the outskirts of the capital Bissau, near the airport.
People were seen fleeing the area, local markets were closed and banks closed their doors, while military vehicles loaded with troops drove through the streets.
The former Portuguese colony is an impoverished coastal state of around two million people south of Senegal.
It has seen four military coups since gaining independence in 1974, the most recent in 2012.
In 2014, the country promised to return to constitutional rule, but has enjoyed little stability since then, with the armed forces wielding substantial influence.
A 36-year-old French woman living in Bissau, Kadeejah Diop, said she rushed to pick up her two children from school and witnessed armed troops enter the Government Palace.
“They made all the workers leave. There was a huge panic,” she told AFP by phone from her home. “Right now, we are hiding inside. We have no news.
In reaction to the events, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued a statement saying it “condemns this attempted coup” and urged the soldiers to “return to their barracks.”
The bloc warned that it “holds the military responsible for the well-being of President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and members of his government.”
The United Nations said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “deeply concerned by news of heavy fighting in Bissau.”
He called for “an immediate end to the fighting and full respect for the country’s democratic institutions,” the UN statement said.
Embalo, a 49-year-old reserve brigadier general and former prime minister, took office in February 2020 after winning a runoff election that followed four years of political infighting under the country’s semi-presidential system.
He was a candidate for a party called Madem, made up of rebels from the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC) that had brought Guinea-Bissau to independence.
His main opponent, PAIGC candidate Domingos Simoes Pereira, bitterly contested the result, but Embalo declared himself president without waiting for the outcome of his petition to the Supreme Court.
Late last year, the head of the armed forces said that members of the armed forces had been preparing to carry out a coup while the president was on a work trip to Brazil.
The troops had been offering bribes to other soldiers “to subvert the established constitutional order,” said the head of the armed forces, General Biague Na Ntam, on October 14.
The government spokesman denied his version the next day.
Adding to the volatility, Guinea-Bissau struggles with a reputation for corruption and drug smuggling.
Its porous coastline and cultural ties have made it an important stop on the African smuggling route. In 2019, almost two tons of cocaine were seized.
Source Credit: TheGuardian