December 26, 2011 3:37 pm

Guinea-Bissau army official: forces quelled attempted coup as ill leader seeks treatment


BISSAU, Guinea Bissau – A top military official attempted unsuccessfully to seize power early Monday, an army official said, while the ill leader of this tiny, coup-prone West African country is believed to be undergoing medical treatment abroad.

Army chief Antonio Indjai said authorities had arrested navy chief Natchuto Bubo. Top officials were meeting to discuss the situation Monday evening.

“There was an attempted coup d’etat but the situation is under the control of the army and government,” Indjai said, giving no further details.

Lawmaker Lucio Rodrigues said the event seemed to have little effect.

“Life is continuing much as you would expect for a day after Christmas,” he said. “Cars are circulating, there are people on the street, the attempt hasn’t had much of an effect on the population.”

Rodrigues added that Indjai made a brief statement saying only that in the early hours of Monday “an attempt was made to reverse the constitutional order” but that “the situation is now under control.”

The reported coup attempt comes as President Malam Bacai Sanha has recently sought medical treatment in France. The leader was elected in 2009 following the assassination of Guinea-Bissau’s previous leader.

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Sanha’s health has been the subject of intense speculation and he is known to suffer from diabetes. He has been hospitalized for long stretches in Senegal and France with the government always describing the visits as routine.

A French official confirmed in early December that Sanha was being treated in a Paris hospital. The Foreign Ministry on Monday declined to say whether he was still in France.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has been beset by a series of coups, military revolts and political assassinations.

The country’s former president, Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira, was assassinated on March 2, 2009, hours after the head of the army was killed in a bomb explosion.

Less than a year later, mutinous soldiers seized the head of the armed forces and placed the prime minister under house arrest in an apparent coup attempt.

The lawlessness has in recent years attracted South American drug traffickers, who have used the country as a transit point for shipping cocaine to Europe.

The violence and instability also have taken their toll on the country’s economic development. The nation sits at the bottom of most economic and health indices. The majority of people live without electricity or clean running water, and there are few job opportunities for young people. The average life expectancy in Guinea-Bissau is just 46 years.

Associated Press writer Jenny Barchfield contributed to this report from Paris.

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