A grimly familiar sequence of gunfire in the capital, military communiqués on the radio and the arrest of government officials is repeating itself in the small coastal state of Guinea-Bissau — apparently the latest West African nation to succumb to a coup d’état. A second round of voting in presidential elections was scheduled to take place later this month, but on Friday, the heavy favorite, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., was in army custody along with other senior officials. The military, which has dominated politics in the country ever since it fought its way to independence from Portugal in 1974, announced it did not intend to stay in power and called a meeting of political parties late Friday. But military officials did not say what their plans were for the nation of 1.6 million people, which is heavily dependent on aid and considered a major transit hub for Latin American drugs. Once again, in a country long accustomed to coups, the trigger was apparently the army’s perception that its prerogatives were threatened, diplomats said.
Soldiers guarded government buildings in the ramshackle port capital, Bissau, on Friday afternoon, and the streets were deserted. The two-story headquarters of the prime minister’s political party, which dominates the main square downtown, were occupied by the military, and observers said an unusual quiet prevailed after the previous evening’s gunfire and explosions. Photographs showed a large hole blasted in a wall of Mr. Gomes’s residence.
The coup in Guinea-Bissau comes shortly after junior officers seized power in Mali last month, also right before presidential elections were scheduled to take place. But unlike Mali, a longstanding exemplar of democracy in the region, Guinea-Bissau, in its recurrent upheavals, has consistently been at the extreme edge of instability among its neighbors.