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West African troops in Guinea-Bissau to restore order after coup

May 17, 2012 | 12:43 pm

Gomes
A West African bloc is sending hundreds of troops to Guinea-Bissau, part of a regional attempt to restore order after the latest military coup in the small nation's tumultuous history.

More than 600 soldiers from the Economic Community of West African States will arrive in Guinea-Bissau "to relieve the Angolan military personnel [and] support the restoration of constitutional rule," the group said in a widely reported statement. Seventy troops reportedly arrived Thursday.

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. was ousted last month just weeks before an election he was expected to win, accused of plotting with Angola to crush the national military. The prime minister had sought to reduce military power in the former Portuguese colony, which has a history pocked with coups.

Guinea-Bissau named former Finance Minister Rui Duarte Barros as its interim prime minister this week as part of a plan to shift power away from the military, but Gomes told reporters in Portugal that he plans to return to his country to combat drug trafficking, saying he was lawfully elected and had legitimacy to lead.

Portugal has indications that trafficking was at the root of the coup, Portuguese Foreign Affairs Minister Paulo Portas told Bloomberg News at the same news conference.

"All the problems in Guinea-Bissau are because of drug trafficking," Lucinda Gomes Barbosa, the former head of the country's anti-narcotics police, told McClatchy recently. "There are people in high positions in government who are benefiting from this. They only think about money."

The unrest in Guinea-Bissau parallels that in nearby Mali, where the military overthrew the government in March. Mali now faces the worst challenges it has confronted since independence, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday. The West African bloc has readied thousands of troops to go to Mali, but is awaiting a formal request from the government, it said in a statement this week.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Guinea Bissau's overthrown prime minister, Carlos Gomes Jr., center, leaves the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Lisbon after a meeting Thursday with Portuguese officials. Credit: Jose Sena Goulao / European Pressphoto Agency.

The unrest in Guinea-Bissau parallels that in Mali, where the military overthrew the government in March. Mali now faces the worst challenges it has confronted since its independence, Amnesty International said in a report released Wednesday. The West African bloc may also send thousands of troops to Mali, but has said it is awaiting a formal request from the government before it deploys the force.

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-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

 

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