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The crisis in this tiny West African country worsened Monday after the military
group that overthrew the government last week suspended the constitution,
dissolved Parliament and sealed off Guinea-Bissau's borders.
Union workers went on strike, bringing the country to a standstill, according to
reports by the Miami Herald.
"You've got a situation where there is a stalemate," said a Western
nongovernmental-organization worker who knows the country well and who spoke
on the condition of anonymity because of concerns for his security. "Nothing is
The military increased its presence in downtown Bissau, the capital, after a small
group of protesters who opposed the coup clashed with soldiers Sunday, sending
20 protesters to the hospital, a diplomat said.
Banks, shops and government agencies closed in this country of 1.6 million in
which almost 7 in 10 people live on less than $2 a day. A 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew
was imposed in the capital.
Some residents fled Bissau after a Lisbon-based association of Portuguese-
speaking countries called for a U.N.-mandated military intervention. Portugal
announced that it was sending two warships and a military plane to Guinea-
Bissau to evacuate its citizens. Coup leaders here apparently saw it as a threat,
prompting them to close the country's seaport, airport and borders.
The coup came in the midst of a presidential election in which the front-runner,
former Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., had promised to downsize the military,
which analysts say is bloated, poorly trained and deeply involved in the cocaine
trade. Military leaders and some politicians have been accused of helping to
traffic hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of drugs each year from Latin America
Last Thursday, a group of soldiers launched grenades into Gomes' house and
arrested him and interim President Raimundo Pereira. The soldiers then tracked
down other government ministers and looted their homes, diplomats said. Gomes
remains in custody.
John Gomes, the brother of Interior Minister Fernando Gomes, said he and his
brother were hiding in a European Union compound. He said other ministers had
taken refuge in various foreign embassies, but none had been killed as rumored.
The Gomes brothers aren't related to the former prime minister.
"We are trying to find out information, just like you," John Gomes said. "We are
just listening to the radio to try to find out what's going on outside."
There are signs that the coup leaders are desperate to crush opposition. One
Western diplomat who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the
situation said the military had begun recruiting people from rural areas to pose as
soldiers and rough up protesters. The hired hands were given uniforms and guns
to do their job, the diplomat said. Also, a popularblogger, Antonio Aly Silva, wrote
that soldiers arrested him Saturday, tortured him and then released him.
Coup leaders shut down local news radio stations Sunday, but they allowed them
to reopen Monday with a warning to not be too critical in their reporting.
There are conflicting reports about whether Army Gen. Antonio Injai orchestrated
the coup. The military had suggested that his own army had arrested him, but
some say that was a ruse to take the focus away from him.
The military was in talks with more than a dozen opposition parties over the
weekend to form a "unity government" that would exclude Carlos Gomes Jr.'s
party, which held two-thirds of the seats in the assembly before it was dissolved.
But after promising to offer details Monday, coup leaders did not do so.
Diplomats here say that no matter what kind of unity government is formed, the
international community - which has strongly condemned the coup - will reject it.
A high-level delegation from the Economic Community of West African States
arrived late Monday to demand that coup leaders back down.
Complicating matters, five former presidential candidates who at first appeared to
support the coup announced Monday that they now oppose it and insisted that
the constitution be restored.
But their leader, former President Kumba Yala, refused to answer a critical
question from reporters: whether restoring constitutional order would mean
releasing his opponent, Carlos Gomes Jr., and allowing him to run for president.
Guinea-Bissau coup leaders shut border,
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