Ousted Guinea-Bissau leader says he's still in charge

Tight security cloaked coup-prone Guinea Bissau on Monday as top officials held crisis talks to digest a claim from ousted president Kumba Yala that he remains head of the West African state.

“The government is not worried by the declarations from Kumba Yala, but we are remaining watchful,” Minister of Defence Martinho Ndafa Cadi said after meeting with defence and security chiefs as well as top government officials.

“We are following developments step by step, though I am not sure why people are dwelling on the details of Kumba Yala.”

The senior command of Guinea-Bissau’s military and Cabinet ministers also met separately Monday to “analyse [his] statement and what actions may be taken in the event of a problem”, a military source said in an allusion to Yala’s implied threat of street violence should his proclamation go unheeded.

Yala was bounced from the presidency in September 2003 in a bloodless coup, the latest in a long line of putsches and provocations to destabilise the impoverished country since its independence in 1974 from Portugal.

His interim replacement by President Henrique Rosa has brought a fragile peace to the state, but new fears of unrest and instability have been evoked leading up to planned June 19 presidential polls.

A pro-peace rally that aimed to discredit Yala’s statements was held and dispersed without incident in central Bissau, even as squadrons of police and security officials moved through the seaside capital’s streets.

There has been no word from Yala, a former philosophy professor, since he announced on Sunday that as his ouster was illegitimate, he remained president. A small group of his partisans gathered outside his home, but he has yet to appear.

“I am president of all the people of Guinea-Bissau and I take this responsibility,” Yala said on Sunday.

On next month’s election, he said: “The process is interrupted. We will decide later on the holding of elections.”

Yala, representing the Social Renewal Party, had been banned from all political activity after the coup that cut short his five-year term by 18 months.

Despite the ban, he was last week cleared by the Supreme Court to be among the 14 candidates contesting the polls.
He had threatened to seize power should his candidacy be denied.

Wary eyes have been turned towards the military, within which Yala has a strong base of support, but senior military leaders moved quickly to quell speculation of another provocation.

“There is no danger at this time, and we remain loyal to President Rosa,” General Bitchofla Na Fase, who led the military coup against Yala, said.

Speaking from Lisbon on Monday, Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jnr also tried to soothe international concerns that his impoverished country risks sliding back into chaos, and insisted elections will still take place.

“The military has assured me that all was calm, that they would not use force,” he told the Portuguese radio station TSF.

“That is the guarantee I have been given by the leaders of the armed forces and we are inclined to trust them ... So, I don’t think they are going to embark on any sort of political adventure.”

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan late on Sunday also joined the chorus of concern that the polls be allowed to proceed and continue the transition.

He “called on all segments of society, in particular political leaders, to desist from any actions or statements that could undermine peaceful and orderly electoral and transitional processes or otherwise exacerbate tensions in the country”, his spokesperson said.—Sapa-AFP

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