Bissau neighbours back parliament chief for president

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The 15-state ECOWAS group of West African states backed Guinea-Bissau’s parliament speaker to head the transition back to civilian rule after an April 12 coup, a decision immediately rejected within the country’s main political party.

The tiny coastal state of Guinea-Bissau has long been a major trafficking hub for Latin American cocaine into Europe, with key army leaders suspected by the United States and others of being implicated in the narcotics trade.

An ECOWAS delegation to the capital Bissau issued a statement declaring that, according to the constitution, parliament speaker Manuel Sherifo Nhamadjo should assume the function of interim president, Reuters reports.

However an official for the PAIGC party of former prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior, favourite to win a presidential run-off that had been scheduled to take place days after the coup, said it would not recognise Nhamadjo.
“The PAIGC … awaits the view of the U.N. Security Council on this matter,” PAIGC Secretary-General Augusto Olivaz told reporters after the ECOWAS statement, issued in the early hours of the morning after 10 hours of closed-door talks.

However it was not clear whether Olivaz’s stance represented that of the broader PAIGC party, many of whose members have said they are favourable to Nhamadjo. Gomes Junior, who was initially held by coup leaders, is believed to be in Ivory Coast.

The coup came after weeks of tensions between the Bissau military and an Angolan force of several hundred troops sent to the country to help reform the army, which has repeatedly interfered in politics since 1974’s independence from Portugal.

Angola has said it plans to pull the force out. ECOWAS has subsequently said it could deploy its own military advisers to take over the baton, but so far neither a clear date for the Angolan pull-out nor ECOWAS entry has been set and the idea of a joint ECOWAS-Angola force has been mooted.

ECOWAS has said it believed Army Chief of Staff General Antonio Indjai was the leader of the shadowy self-styled Military Command that seized power in the coup. However the junta said Indjai had been deposed during the coup.