Soldiers in Guinea-Bissau 'coup bid'

Renegade soldiers seized the head of Guinea-Bissau’s armed forces and briefly detained the prime minister today in an apparent coup attempt, a minister said.

Military music played on the radio, code throughout the region for a military coup.

Hours later, the soldiers released Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr after hundreds of people gathered in front of his office chanting “Never a coup d’etat in Guinea-Bissau”.

Luis Sanca, minister of territorial administration, said that he and the prime minister were taken hostage by the soldiers at 8am. He said they were taken to the capital’s main military camp where they saw the head of the armed forces, Zamora Induta, was also under guard.

Mr Sanca said the soldiers released him and Mr Gomes at around 11am but were still holding the army chief.

The West African nation has been plagued by coups, counter-coups and a civil war in its 35 years of independence from Portugal. Guinea-Bissau’s current president won an election last year to succeed the former leader, who was assassinated in March 2009.

The violence and instability have taken their toll, leaving Guinea-Bissau ranked third from last on the United Nation’s 2008 Human Development Index. Most of its people live without electricity or clean water and the average life expectancy is just 46 years.

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