Guinea-Bissau soldiers in pay protest

2011-12-26 20:16

Bissau - Fully armed troops on Monday deployed in the capital of Guinea-Bissau and erected roadblocks in a public protest to press for a rise in their pay, according to a military source.

There were no signs of any panic among civilians in the small west African country, an AFP correspondent said.

In Bissau's city centre, troops from different units could be seen, armed with machine-guns, Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-launchers. Some of these soldiers arrived early in the morning from Mansoa, about 60km to the north.

Streets around the headquarters of the general staff were full of troops, and soldiers were also to be seen on the main roads in town, including the avenue leading to the home of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior.

Gomes briefly took refuge at the Angolan embassy, after soldiers paid him a short visit at his house, located opposite the embassy, according to two people close to him and a diplomatic source who was not Angolan.

No Angolan diplomats could be reached for comment and no explanation could be had of the soldiers' visit to the prime minister's residence, to which he returned at midday, according to a member of his family.

"This is not a coup attempt. There's no panic here in Bissau," where Monday is a public holiday, the diplomatic source said.

A soldier presenting himself as one of the leaders of the deployed forces told AFP, on condition of anonymity, that the troops were out to demand a pay rise.

"This is a purely military problem, we have no intention of attacking the state," the soldier said.

According to him, the government in November granted a pay increase to the army "to enable us to have a good Christmas", but this money only went to a handful of soldiers.

The military action took place in the absence of President Malam Bacai Sanha, who is currently undergoing medical care in France.