Heavy gunfire has erupted near the government palace in Guinea-Bissau’s capital, Bissau raising fears of a coup attempt in this West African country with a long history of military takeovers.
Videos of armed men with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades were shared on social media, and the state broadcaster reported that “invaders” were holding government officials.
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS condemned what it described as an attempted coup.
“ECOWAS is following with great concern the evolution of the situation in Guinea-Bissau … where military gunfire is taking place around the government palace,” the organization said.
“ECOWAS condemns this attempted coup and holds the military responsible for the safety of President Umaro Sissoco Embaló and members of his government.”
Embaló, a former army general, was believed to be inside the building at the time of the attack. He was declared the winner of the 2020 election, although the results were contested by former PM Domingos Simões Pereira.
Embaló then started forming a new government with support from the military while a supreme court election challenge was still pending.
A 36-year-old Frenchwoman living in Bissau, Kadeejah Diop, said she had rushed to pick up her two children from school and witnessed armed troops entering the government palace.
“They made all the female workers leave. There was a huge panic,” she told AFP by phone. “Right now, we are holed up indoors. We have no news.”
The UN said Secretary-General António Guterres was “deeply concerned with the news of heavy fighting in Bissau”.
He called for “an immediate end to the fighting and for full respect of the country’s democratic institutions,” the UN’s statement said.
Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced four coup d’états, and more than a dozen attempted coups.
The small nation of about 1.5 million people has long been beset by corruption and drug trafficking. In the 2000s, it became known as a transit point for cocaine between Latin America and Europe as traffickers profited from corruption and weak law enforcement.
West Africa has had a series of coups in the last 18 months. Emboldened by popular discontent, militaries in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso have seized power, reversing democratic gains that had led to the region shedding its tag as Africa’s “coup belt”.