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Guinea-Bissau''s president, army chief killed
BISSAU,MAR 2 (Reuters):
Published on 2 Mar. 2009 11:59 PM IST
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Soldiers killed Guinea-Bissau's President Joao Bernado "Nino" Vieira on Monday in an apparent revenge attack for the slaying of the army chief of the unstable West African country. Small arms fire and heavy weapons resounded in Bissau city in the early hours, subsiding at first light. Most residents stayed at home as it was unclear who was in control of a nation that has become a key transit point for drug smuggling. "The death of Head of State Joao Bernardo Vieira is confirmed. His wife is at the Angolan embassy," Sandji Fati, a retired army colonel and close associate of the slain president, told Reuters in the capital Bissau. Former colonial power Portugal and the African Union condemned the killings and called for the restoration of order. Fati said Vieira was killed when he refused to go with Angolan diplomats who took his wife to safety. Security sources and residents who live near the president's house confirmed Vieira had been killed at home. The country's 1.6 million people have endured years of instability since independence in 1974. This has been fueled in recent years by the country's emergence as a key transit point in the smuggling of Latin American cocaine to Europe. Vieira was a former military ruler who was ousted during a civil war in the 1990s and returned to power in a 2005 election. He had been at odds with armed forces chief of staff General Batista Tagme Na Wai, who was killed in an attack on Sunday evening that also destroyed part of the military headquarters. A security source said soldiers from Na Wai's Balante ethnic group led the attack on Vieira, who is from the smaller Papel community, and looted his home afterwards. "Tagme always said that his and the president's fate were linked and if he died, so would the president," the source said. The AU called the killings "cowardly and heinous attacks." Portugal demanded the restoration of constitutional rule and called a meeting of the community of Portuguese-speaking countries in Lisbon on Monday to discuss the situation. "We have been in direct contact throughout the night with the prime minister of Guinea-Bissau precisely to guarantee that the process does not slide into a situation of generalized conflict," Foreign Minister Luis Amado said on SIC television. Tensions are rife within Bissau's political establishment and security forces. In January, the armed forces command said militiamen hired to protect President Vieira had shot at Na Wai. A member of the militia denied the shooting had been an assassination attempt but the armed forces command nevertheless ordered the militia be disbanded. The 400-strong force had been recruited as Vieira's personal bodyguard by the Interior Ministry after the president was targeted in a machinegun and rocket-propelled grenade attack on his residence on November 23 last year. Soldiers loyal to Na Wai set free people accused of that attack early on Monday, a judicial police officer said. "At 1 a.m. soldiers who support Na Wai broke down the cell doors at the judicial police station and freed six people suspected of carrying out the November 23 attack on Nino Vieira's home," said the officer, who declined to be named. Analysts say political instability has been exacerbated in the past few years as Latin American drugs gangs have taken advantage of Guinea-Bissau's poorly policed coastline and remote airstrips to smuggle cocaine through Africa to Europe. They say well-resourced drug cartels with access to weapons, speedboats and planes have been able to secure cooperation from senior officials in the armed forces and government in one of the world's poorest countries, whose main export is cashew nuts.

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