Former president tries on his old crown

Former Guinea-Bissau president Kumba Yala and a number of soldiers moved into the presidential palace in the capital Bissau for a few hours early on Wednesday as tension simmered in the small West African state, military sources said.

They said that Yala, who was ousted in a bloodless military coup in September 2003 but declared on May 15 that he is still president, had been in the palace for some four hours from 3am (3am GMT) but then left.

The sources said the presidential palace is now in the hands of troops of the military high command and life seemed normal in the streets of the capital.

Witnesses said Yala was back at his home, as two private radio stations broadcast a statement in the name of armed forces chief of staff General Tagme Na Wai calling for calm while the situation was “clarified”.

The statement said, “A group of soldiers took former president Kumba Yala very early this morning to the palace so that he could occupy the presidential seat.”

A military source said Tagme Na Wai had called an emergency meeting at army headquarters.

Yala said on May 15 that as he had been removed from office illegally, he remained head of state and intended completing his mandate, tacitly threatening street violence should his declarations go unheeded.

Despite a five-year ban on his involvement in politics, the Supreme Court earlier this month approved Yala as one of 17 candidates for the June 19 polls that seek to put an end to the unrest that has stymied development in the country since independence in 1974 from Portugal.

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, head of the African Union, and Niger President Mamadou Tandja, the leader of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), along with Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade and Guinea Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, met here on Saturday with Yala, interim President Henrique Rosa, military leaders and representatives of civil society.

According to sources close to the 15-member Ecowas, the talks in the impoverished former Portuguese colony were “a failure”.

“They did not manage to get ex-president Kumba Yala to reconsider his statements,” one source said.

The African leaders, in a statement released on Saturday evening, called for the “army to remain neutral in the [electoral] process to contribute to the stability of the country”.

The statement also called on all presidential candidates to respect the Constitution and the electoral code and warned against any acts of violence. ‒ Sapa-AFP

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