An opposition supporter died Saturday as thousands clashed with police in an unauthorised rally in Guinée-Bissau, hospital sources and the victim’s family said.
Protesters staged the rally to demand a delay to a November 24 presidential election in order to allow an overhaul of the electoral register to limit potential voter fraud.
Demba Balde, 48, was in the offices of the opposition Party for Social Renovation (PRS), when “a cordon of police armed with clubs and grenade launchers prevented us from going out to join our friends in the street,” the victim’s brother Alimo Balde told AFP.
“There were scuffles and Demba was arrested by four police officers who beat him and sprayed him with (tear) gas. He fell, bloodied, and was struggling to breathe. We tried to bring him round but sadly he passed away before arrival at the hospital,” Alimo Balde said.
Several other people were injured when police fired tear gas to disperse marchers, an AFP correspondent reported.
The impoverished West African state’s Supreme Court said two weeks ago it had approved 12 candidates to contest the poll, including incumbent Jose Mario Vaz, who intends to stand again as an independent candidate.
Several candidates saw the court reject their bid to stand rejected but the international community has stated the electoral calendar should be respected.
Vaz, 62, became president in 2014 after elections billed as a new start for a country that had known only coups and turmoil since the end of Portuguese rule in 1974.
Barcelona’s 16-year-old starlet Ansu Fati was granted Spanish citizenship on Friday, a government spokeswoman said, meaning he will be able to represent Spain at international level.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s cabinet approved a request made by the justice minister to give the Guinea-Bissau-born forward Spanish citizenship during its weekly meeting, the spokeswoman said.
Fati was just seven years old when he moved in 2009 to Spain from the impoverished west African nation with his family and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona’s prestigious youth academy La Masia aged 10.
The player qualified for citizenship because he had completed the required 10 years of residency in Spain.
In August, Fati became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga and on Tuesday, the club’s youngest player to play in the Champions League.
Spain’s national coach Robert Moreno described Fati’s full debut for Barcelona last weekend as “mind-blowing” after he scored one goal and set up another in a 5-2 win over Valencia.
His first major tournament for Spain could come at the Under-17 World Cup in Brazil, which begins on October 26 and ends on November 17.
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said Friday it would be a “setback” for Barca if Fati goes to the tournament, when he could miss seven games for his club.
“We will wait for him to be called up first,” said Valverde. “But it would be a setback because he is a player that is contributing a lot to us at the moment.”
Asked if he would try to persuade Fati to remain with Barcelona, Valverde said: “I don’t think he will ask me for advice about it and I don’t like giving advice very much because in football the things you know are learned by experience. Everyone has to make their own decisions.”
Shehu added that the President supported the country with 350 units of electoral kits, 10 motorcycles, five Hilux vans, and two light trucks.
According to him, this will ensure that legislative elections, which should help in stabilising Guinea Bissau, hold in the country.
As Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State, President Buhari directed the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, to undertake an urgent mission as his Special Envoy to Guinea Bissau.
Shehu said the minister would visit the country in the company of ECOWAS Commission President, Jean-Claude Brou.
In a separate development, Mr Onyeama would undertake a mission to Cotonou, Benin Republic, to deliver a personal message to President Patrice Talon from President Buhari.
The visit, according to the presidential aide, is in the context of the brewing political crisis ahead of the legislative elections scheduled to hold on April 28, 2019, in the country.
Read the full statement below:
In his capacity as Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State, President Muhammadu Buhari, this morning, directed the Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama to undertake an urgent mission as his Special Envoy to Guinea Bissau, in the company of ECOWAS Commission President, Jean-Claude Brou.
President Buhari had in response to an urgent request for assistance by the Government of Guinea Bissau graciously approved support to the country’s election process including three hundred and fifty (350) units of electoral kits, ten(10) motorcycles, five(5) Hilux vans, two(2) light trucks and Five hundred thousand US Dollars ($500,000).
This vital assistance ensured that legislative elections held in Guinea Bissau, which should help in stabilising the country.
In a separate development, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister will also undertake a mission to Cotonou, Benin, to deliver a personal message to President Patrice Talon from President Buhari.
The visit is in the context of the brewing political crisis ahead of April 28, 2019, legislative elections in the country.
A man arrested in Guinea Bissau last week following the seizure of nearly 800 kg of cocaine from a fish truck is an adviser to the speaker in Niger’s parliament, judicial police in Guinea Bissau said on Monday.
The 789 kg stash was the largest ever seized in Guinea Bissau, a former Portuguese colony on the Atlantic Coast that has long been a major trans-shipment point for Latin American cocaine headed to Europe.
Guinea Bissau’s police arrested four individuals near the town of Safim including Mohamed Sidi Ahmed, an adviser to Nigerien parliament speaker Ousseini Tinni, said Domingos Monteiro, deputy director of the judicial police.
Sidi Ahmed, who was carrying an ID card for the National Assembly of Niger, was presented to the public prosecutor and remains in detention, Monteiro said.
It was not immediately possible to contact Sidi Ahmed’s lawyer. A spokeswoman for Tinni was not available for comment. The identities of the three other individuals who were arrested were not immediately clear.
The judicial police said that the seizure of the drugs near the town of Safim was the result of a four-month intelligence operation. The largest prior cocaine seizure in Guinea Bissau was 650 kg in 2007.
The United Nations said last year that Africa and Asia were becoming cocaine trafficking and consumption hubs, and Guinea Bissau’s mix of weak law enforcement and a maze of islands and unpoliced mangroves have helped make it a smuggler’s haven.
The country voted on Sunday in long-delayed parliamentary elections, which are meant to draw a line under political wrangling that has seen seven different prime ministers in the last five years.
Voters in Guinea-Bissau went to the polls Sunday to elect a new parliament in the hope of ending a protracted leadership deadlock in a country that has become renowned for drug trafficking and instability.
“I came to vote because I want the development of my country. I hope that the day passes off calmly,” said Victor Pereira, 42.
The one-time Marxist ruling party PAIGC, which has run the poor West African country of some two million for most of the 45 years since winning independence from Portugal, is fielding candidates along with 20 opposition parties.
Among them are the main opposition Party of Social Renewal and the Movement for Democratic Change (Madem-G15), made up of dissidents from the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde (PAIGC).
The latest crisis in the notoriously volatile country arose in August 2015 when President Jose Mario Vaz, elected a year earlier, sacked his prime minister, Domingos Simoes Pereira who was head of the PAIGC, after a falling out.
At the time, the parallel economy came to play a preponderant role, fuelled by drug trafficking.
Vaz appointed a series of prime ministers, but none garnered sufficient support to achieve a parliamentary majority.
Finally, in April 2018, the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediated an agreement leading to the designation of a consensus prime minister, Aristide Gomes, and the resumption of work by the 102-seat parliament.
Gomes was given the caretaker task of preparing for parliamentary polls, in which 36 percent of candidates must be women for the first time.
Initially set for November 18, the polls were postponed to March 10 mainly for technical reasons.
UN Chief Pessimistic
The party that wins on Sunday should appoint the future prime minister, who could once again be Vaz’s rival Simoes Pereira.
“These are the most contested elections in the history of Guinea-Bissau. We are coming out of a near four-year political crisis and no government has been able to complete its term,” noted political analyst Rui Landim.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sounded a note of pessimism last month when he said: “Nothing suggests that these elections will make it possible to resolve the problems undermining the country.”
He said a solution could lie in a constitutional review to “clarify the division of labour” between the president and prime minister.
On a positive note, Guterres also said that “the armed forces have remained neutral and have not interfered with the constitutional order” — in a country that has seen 16 coup attempts since independence of which four were successful.
International sanctions remain in place since 2012, after the last violent power seizure.
Guinea-Bissau’s porous coastline and chronic instability have made it a target for Latin American drug lords trafficking cocaine to Europe, implicating senior government and military officials.
Cashews, the country’s main export, accounted for nearly half of the national budget in 2017. Growth slowed to around 3.8 percent in 2018 after a drop in cashew production caused by bad weather.
The opposition has contested the accuracy of the electoral roll for Sunday’s polls, which will be closely watched by international observers.
Campaigning ended on Friday. Some 760,000 people are eligible to vote, with polls closing at 7:00 pm (1900 GMT) on Sunday. First results are expected 48 hours later.
Military sources told AFP that the security forces had been put on alert for any possible violence.
Another election is on the horizon, as Vaz’s five-year term ends on June 23.
The UN special representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas on Wednesday urged Guinea-Bissau authorities to set a date for legislative elections that have been delayed indefinitely.
The polls, originally meant to have taken place on November 18, are seen as a way to resolve a crisis gripping the country since President Jose Mario Vaz sacked his prime minister in August 2015.
The UN, African Union and the Economic Community of West Africa last month had appealed for the elections to happen on schedule.
But Vaz said on November 15 that, as a voter registration survey has been extended to November 20, the election date could only be given at the end of that process. The survey has since been extended another two weeks.
“The authorities must fix a precise date for the legislative elections and not continue pushing it back,” Ibn Chambas said in a meeting with Senegal’s Foreign Press Association in Dakar.
The repeated delays “are creating a limbo which is not very encouraging,” he said, adding that “it seems to me that’s what the authorities want”.
Ibn Chambas said that, with the voter census ongoing, “I don’t see a problem in having the elections this year, before the end of December — but even if that doesn’t happen, a date needs to be set for 2019”.
Analysts said a 2018 date was looking more and more unlikely, given laws saying there needed to be a period between the end of the survey, the announcement of an election date, and the organisation of the campaigns.
According to the government, 70 percent of the electorate has so far been counted in the voter census.
Six soldiers were arrested in mid-December for an attempt on the life of Guinea-Bissau’s army chief, AFP learned on Monday from a military court source.
Two heads of the armed forces were murdered in 2004 and 2009 in coup-prone Guinea Bissau, where the army is often implicated in political crises that regularly rock the country.
The six detained men targeted General Biague Na Ntam, several sources told AFP, without elaborating on the circumstances of the assassination attempt.
“Their case has been heard and sent up to the military tribunal,” said General Daba Na Walna, head of the country’s high military court. They were arrested on December 14 and 15, but this was only made public Monday. The six men are currently being held at a prison located at an air base.
Two majors, a captain and a lieutenant were based at barracks 150 kilometres east of the capital, Bissau, the military source and a human rights organisation confirmed.
“We gave the detained men buckets to wash in, toiletries,” said Augusto Mario da Silva, President of Guinea Bissau’s Human Rights League, adding that better conditions had been demanded for the soldiers, as well as the guarantee of defence lawyers.
The tiny west African state has been in the grip of a power struggle since August 2015, when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked then prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira.
Guinea-Bissau has been plagued by military coups and instability since its independence from Portugal in 1974, with President Joao Bernardo Vieira assassinated in 2009 alongside General Tagme Na Waie.
West African leaders on Saturday threatened to slap Guinea-Bissau with sanctions unless the country’s grinding political crisis was resolved within two months.
In a summit in Nigeria, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it was “disappointed with the absence of progress in the peace process” in the tiny west African state, which has been in the grip of a power struggle since August 2015.
The crisis erupted when President Jose Mario Vaz sacked then prime minister Domingos Simoes Pereira.
Talks mediated by Guinean President Alpha Conde and Togolese counterpart Faure Gnassingbe in October 2016 had envisaged naming a new prime minister and assembling a unity government.
ECOWAS called on Conde and Gnassingbe “to continue consultation within the next two months without which collective and individual sanctions will be handed down against all those who constitute themselves into an obstacle”.
Vaz had this week proposed fresh talks to find a way out of the crisis but opposition parties objected to the plan.
Guinea-Bissau has been plagued by military coups and instability since its independence from Portugal in 1974.
President Muhammadu Buhari on Friday told the President of ECOWAS Commission, Marcel A. de Souza that Nigerian troops in Guinea Bissau need to be sent back home.
He said this when he hosted Marcel A. de Souza at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
According to a statement by Buhari’s special adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, the President said he expects a formal report on the situation in Guinea Bissau at the 52nd Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government set to hold on Saturday in Abuja.
“We need our troops back home, and I hope the President of that country will accept a constitutional way to resolve the situation there,” Buhari said.
The ECOWAS Commission boss in response thanked Nigeria for agreeing to host the 52nd Ordinary Session at short notice, adding that the impact of Nigeria was quite strong in the organisation. He said further that Nigeria will make an impact in the ECOWAS region having just come out of recession.
“We are under financial pressure due to terrorist attacks in the sub-region, but Nigeria being out of recession will have an impact on the entire region,” de Souza said.
He noted that Nigeria was the highest contributor of troops to Guinea Bissau, but admitted that “the troops can’t be there endlessly.”
Buhari also said it was gladdening that the organisation demand accountability from its headquarters staff, which made it invite the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from Nigeria recently to look into its books.
“Thanks for being firm, and for insisting on transparency and accountability at the ECOWAS headquarters,” President Buhari said, adding that Nigeria would continue to fulfil its obligations to the sub-regional body.