Guinea-Bissau unrest draws condemnation
Bissau - East Timor's president has offered to mediate a crisis in Guinea-Bissau after soldiers arrested the prime minister of the tiny West African nation, and Portugal's defence minister said forces under his command were prepared to evacuate Portuguese citizens.
"The situation in Guinea-Bissau, which I have followed over the years, is extraordinarily complex, dangerous, because it can degrade into more violence, and the country is not in a position to afford that new setback in the peace process and its democratisation," Jose Ramos-Horta, president of East Timor, told Portuguese news agency Lusa.
Soldiers arrested the prime minister of the nation known for transiting cocaine to Europe, a military spokesperson said on Friday, the latest instability in the coup-prone West African country where no leader in nearly 40 years has finished his time in office.
The announcement of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr's detention came hours after his home came under attack by grenades. Guinea-Bissau was due to hold a contentious presidential run-off election on April 29, and Gomes was the front-runner.
Portuguese Defence Minister Jose Aguiar Branco said on Saturday that his forces were prepared to evacuate citizens.
"It is our responsibility and our job to ensure adequate preparedness in the event that the evacuation be necessary," he said, adding that the situation was being monitored closely.
Recent events in the country have drawn international condemnation, including from the West African regional bloc Ecowas, the UN and the US.
On Saturday, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said the US "(urges) all parties to put down their weapons, release government leaders immediately, and restore the legitimate civilian leadership".
"We strongly condemn the attempt by certain elements of the military to forcibly seize power and undermine the legitimate civilian leadership of Guinea-Bissau," he said. "We regret that they have chosen to disrupt the democratic process, which already was challenged by the opposition's call to boycott the second round of elections."
On Friday, ministers with Ecowas agreed to send a military contingent to the country to provide security. The group also agreed to send a civilian-military delegation under the auspices of regional mediator President Alpha Conde of Guinea.
Also on Saturday, Lusa said a popular journalist in Guinea-Bissau was detained and released. Antonio Aly Silva, author of a popular blog, told Lusa he was held for a few hours and was released along with singer Dulce Neves and several of Gomes' bodyguards.
Favoured to win run-off
Gomes had been favoured to win this month's run-off after his challenger Kumba Yala, a former president who was overthrown in a 2003 coup, said he would boycott the vote because of irregularities in the first round of balloting.
In 2009, the country's long-time leader was assassinated in his home, and his successor died from illness in January before finishing his term, prompting this year's special election.
Officially, most of Guinea-Bissau's earnings come from cashew nuts. But traffickers from Latin America use the nation's archipelago of uninhabited islands to land small, twin-engine planes loaded with drugs, which are then parcelled out and carried north for sale in Europe.
The traffickers, according to analysts, have bought off key members of the government and the military, creating a narcostate.