© Reuters. Guinea-Bissau President Umaro Sissoco Embalo speaks during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, England, November 2, 2021. Adrian Dennis / Pool via REUTERS
By Alberto Dabo
BISSAU (Reuters) – President Umaro Sissoco Embalo of Guinea-Bissau survived a coup attempt on Tuesday but said many members of the security forces had been killed to repel an attack on democracy that had may be related to drug trafficking.
Earlier, loud gunfire was heard near the government compound, where Embalo was chairing a cabinet meeting. The situation was unclear for several hours, during which the African Union and West African bloc ECOWAS condemned what they called “a targeted coup”.
The fast-moving events in the former Portuguese colony on the West African coast come just over a week after the military in Burkina Faso, another country in the region, deposed the president there.
Appearing late in the evening in a video posted on the President’s Facebook page (NASDAQ:) of the President of Guinea-Bissau, Embalo said the attackers tried to enter the compound shortly after a cabinet meeting but were repelled.
“It’s not just a coup. It’s an attempt to kill the president, the prime minister and all the cabinet,” he said.
He added that the attack “was well prepared and organized and may well involve people involved in the drug trade”, without giving further details.
Poverty Guinea-Bissau is considered by the United Nations as the main reference point for Latin American cocaine heading to Europe. American and European authorities have long suspected that some in the country’s military are involved in the drug trade.
Embalo, who had received strong support from the military during an earlier political crisis, hinted in his video that the military was not involved in Tuesday’s attack.
“I can assure you that none of the camps were involved in this attempted coup. It was isolated. It linked to the people we fought against,” he said, without elaborating. like more.
He said those involved had begun to be arrested, but he did not know how many.
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on his official website that he had spoken to Embalo by phone and had “transmitted his vehement condemnation … of the attacks against the constitutional order.” of Guinea-Bissau”.
Before Embalo’s video, the African Union said several government members were being held and had called for the military to release them, but gave no details.
Political turmoil has affected Guinea-Bissau for decades, with nine previous coups or attempted coups since independence in 1974.
In confusing hours on Tuesday, the Portuguese embassy urged its citizens in Guinea-Bissau to stay home while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply concerned” about what taking place in the capital Bissau.
Embalo began presiding over an extraordinary cabinet meeting at around 10 a.m., entering the government palace with strict security detail, a diplomatic source said. While he was inside the building, gunfire broke out outside.
The cabinet meeting is being held in preparation for the upcoming ECOWAS summit in response to last week’s military takeover in Burkina Faso, the latest in a series of coups across the region in 18 years. past month.
“It seems increasingly difficult to argue against the idea of a coup contagion,” said Eric Humphrey-Smith, analyst at risk consultancy Verisk (NASDAQ: Maplecroft).
“When added to the successful coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Chad over the past year, it is certain that West African leaders are anxiously looking over their shoulder.”