Guinea-Bissau: President Links Failed Coup to Drug War as 6 Die in Putsch

Madem G-15's vice-president Umaro Sissoco Embalo poses for a photograph on December 28, 2019, in Bissau. - Voters in Guinea-Bissau are being called out to cast their ballots in a presidential runoff on December 29, capping a year of turmoil in the poor, coup-prone West African state. After months of acrimony, people are being asked to choose between two former prime ministers -- Domingos Simoes Pereira, from the traditional ruling PAIGC party, and opposition figure Umaro Sissoco Embalo. (Photo by SEYLLOU / AFP)

Guinea-Bissau’s state radio reported on Wednesday that at least six people were killed during a failed coup attempt to topple President Umaro Sissoco Embalo.

Four assailants and two members of the presidential guard were killed in the attack on Tuesday, it said. Embalo said on Tuesday night the situation was under control after gunfire erupted near a government compound where he was holding a cabinet meeting for more than five hours.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, the West African country, which has a population of about 2 million, has seen 10 coups or attempted coups. Only one democratically elected president has served an entire term.

Analysts have warned about “coup contagion” in West Africa after a spate of military takeovers over the past 18 months, including two in Mali, one in Guinea and one just last week. 

It appeared that the context in Guinea-Bissau was different. While it is unclear who is responsible for the attack, Embalo suggested it was linked to the government’s fight against drug trafficking rather than a coup attempt by the military.

“It wasn’t just a coup. It was an attempt to kill the president, the prime minister and all the cabinet,” he said on Tuesday night.

He speculated that the attack may have been related to people involved in drug trafficking, without giving any details.

Guinea-Bissau, a poor country sandwiched between Guinea to the south and Senegal to the north, is a major transit point for cocaine originating in Latin America destined for Europe, contributing to its constant instability.

The country has been mired in political deadlock and infighting, but the insurgency has not caused the same security problems as Mali and Burkina Faso, where an Islamist insurgency has killed thousands and eroded faith in government in recent years.


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