Soldiers occupy Guinea-Bissau court


A dozen soldiers took over the grounds of Guinea-Bissau’s Supreme Court, the court said, deepening a post-election crisis and the appointment of rival presidents and the silencing of state media.

The West African country’s military, which regularly intervenes in politics, vowed to remain neutral ahead of the December election. The presence last week of senior army officials at the inauguration of Umaro Cissoko Embalo as president appeared to signal it had picked a side.

The electoral commission repeatedly confirmed Embalo as the winner of the December 29 run-off despite complaints by the Supreme Court and the declared runner-up that the commission did not respect court orders to conduct a full audit of the vote.

On Monday, soldiers occupied the Supreme Court’s grounds of in Bissau blocking entry to judges and officials, court spokesman Salimo Vieira told Reuters.

“The soldiers are refusing entry to the Supreme Court, which cannot function,” he said, adding other courts were also occupied by the military.

State radio has been silent and the state television channel has shown only a blank screen since February 29. Streets in Bissau remain quiet.

An Embalo representative, Bamba Cote, said Embalo asked the army chief of staff for troops to occupy “public institutions as well as radio and TV stations to enable formation of the new cabinet and its installation in the state institutions.”

The soldiers will return to their barracks on Wednesday or Thursday, Cote told Reuters.

Domingos Simoes Pereira, candidate of the majority party in parliament and shown by official results as losing the run-off to Embalo, denounced his rival’s inauguration as a coup.

In the stand-off, Pereira allies in parliament appointed the speaker as a rival interim president after Embalo’s inauguration. Speaker, Cipriano Cassama, withdrew his claim to the presidency, citing a risk of civil war.

Guinea-Bissau witnessed nine coups or attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974, most recently in 2012 when an election was abandoned after soldiers stormed the presidential palace.

In a statement on Sunday, West African regional bloc ECOWAS said Embalo’s inauguration took place “outside legal and constitutional frameworks” and warned of “interference of the defence and security forces in the political sphere”.

The December election was meant to end five years of institutional chaos in which then-President Jose Mario Vaz cycled through seven prime ministers during political disputes.

“The military seem to be trying for the final word,” said analyst Vincent Foucher of the French National Centre for Scientific Research. “It’s clear whose side the army is on.”