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Guinea-Bissau president says attack on democracy thwarted

BISSAU, GUINEA-BISSAU (AP) – Assailants armed with machine guns and AK-47s attacked Guinea-Bissau’s government palace for hours on Tuesday while the president and prime minister were inside, but the coup attempt that ultimately failed, the president announced.

The foiled attack came only about two weeks after a military junta overthrew the democratically elected leader of Burkina Faso, underscoring fears that a recent spate of coups is inspiring others in the region.

President Umaro Sissoco Embalo addressed reporters late Tuesday, saying that the “attack on democracy” had come during a government meeting at the building.

“Our republican defence and security forces were able to stop this evil,” Embalo said, adding that the gunfire went on for five hours.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the assault, though the president said it “also has to do with our fight against narco-trafficking”. Guinea-Bissau became known as a transit point for cocaine between Latin America and Europe in the 2000s as traffickers profited from corruption and weak law enforcement.

The 15-nation West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, already grappling with three other coups in member states over the last 18 months, called Tuesday’s violence a coup attempt and said it was following the situation in Bissau “with great concern”. Portugal’s Foreign Ministry said in a tweet that it strongly condemned the attack in its former colony.

Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced four coup d’etats and more than a dozen attempted coups.

President of Guinea-Bissau Umaro Sissoco Embalo. PHOTO: AP