News24

Guinea-Bissau mourns its president

2012-01-15 21:31

Bissau - Guinea-Bissau buried president Malam Bacai Sanha on Sunday, and its interim leader appealed to all factions in the country to avoid a power struggle before new elections to choose a successor.

Sanha's death in a Paris clinic last week after months of poor health has prompted the United States to warn of the risk of unrest in a coastal state which has suffered repeated coups and become notorious as a hub for cocaine traffic into Europe.

"I urge all Bissau-Guineans to show patriotism and tolerance, to make of Guinea-Bissau a haven of peace, well-being and brotherhood," parliament speaker Raimundo Pereira, who under the constitution assumed the interim presidency, said in a speech.

Thousands turned out on the streets of the capital Bissau on Saturday to pay their respects when Sanha's remains were taken from the airport to his former residence. He died aged 64.

New elections to replace Sanha must be held within 90 days and are likely to pit Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior against rivals, including former president Kumba Yala, who enjoys support from his fellow ethnic Balanta in the military.

Gomes has been running the country since Sanha left Guinea-Bissau for treatment last November and has drawn millions of dollars in donor support from Angola for reform of an army that has traditionally held sway over the former Portuguese colony.

"Guinea-Bissau is looking for a leader that can restore peace and put the military under civilian command," said high school student Augusto Mendes.

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore has accepted an African Union request to mediate between armed groups after a gunbattle erupted in the capital on December 26. Abdoulaye Wade, president of neighbouring Senegal, has also offered to host mediation talks between rival factions.