(by Will Connors, WSJ.com) LAGOS, Nigeria – The President of the tiny West African nation Guinea-Bissau was killed by soldiers early Monday morning in what appeared to be a revenge attack, after the country’s army chief of staff, a rival of the president, was killed in a bomb blast hours earlier.
It wasn’t clear who was in charge of the country after the government confirmed President Joao Bernardo “Nino” Vieira was killed. Local press reports quoted army officials saying they were in control and would respect the country’s constitution. The military denied a coup attempt.
The capital of Bissau was calm, and traffic flowed normally Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Tensions had been boiling between the president and the army for months. In November the president’s home was attacked by machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. In January, a special task force created to protect Mr. Vieira after the attack on his home was accused of attempting to assassinate army chief of staff Gen. Batiste Tagme na Waie and was disbanded.
A blast killed Gen. Waie Sunday night at his headquarters in Bissau, state radio reported.
Hours after Gen. Waie’s death, volleys of automatic gunfire were heard for at least two hours before dawn in Bissau, and residents said soldiers had converged on Mr. Vieira’s palace, the Associated Press reported.
Guinea-Bissau is one of the poorest countries in the world and ranks third to last on the United Nations’ human development index. Its main export crop is cashew nuts. But in recent years, the country has become a popular stopover for drug smugglers shipping cocaine from Latin America to Europe.
Guinea-Bissau has experienced a string of coup attempts and steady political upheaval since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974. Mr. Vieira’s political career is emblematic of the country’s chronic instability, and the fractious relationship between its politicians and military leaders.
Mr. Vieira first gained power through a coup in 1980, then re-gained the presidency through the country’s first multi-party elections in 1994, only to be overthrown and forced into exile after firing the then-army chief in 1999. He returned to the country in 2005 and was elected president again.
Jean Ping, the top official of the African Union, condemned the attacks from his headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, calling the killings “cowardly and heinous.” Former colonial power Portugal also condemned the attacks and called for the return of constitutional rule.
-The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted here for educational purposes only. Visit the website at wsj.com.
1. a) What is the capital of Guinea-Bissau?
b) List the countries that border Guinea-Bissau.
c) Who has been the president of Guinea-Bissau for most of the last 30 years?
2. What is believed to be the reason for President Vieira’s assassination?
3. How is the military responding to President Vieira’s death?
4. From what country and in what year did Guinea-Bissau gain its independence?
5. Where does Guinea-Bissau fall economically in comparison to other countries?
6. Read the “Background” below on Guinea-Bissau’s government. Then, under “Resources” visit the CIA World FactBook website for entries on the U.S. and on Guinea-Bissau. Put the situation in Guinea-Bissau in perspective by comparing some statistics with the U.S.:
-life expectancy of the total population
-AIDS (in adults)
-literacy rates of our two countries
(find the answers under the category “People”)
- Since independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced considerable political and military upheaval. In 1980, a military coup established authoritarian dictator Joao Bernardo ‘Nino’ Vieira as president.
- Despite setting a path to a market economy and multiparty system, Vieira’s regime was characterized by the suppression of political opposition and the purging of political rivals. Several coup attempts through the 1980s and early 1990s failed to unseat him.
- In 1994 Vieira was elected president in the country’s first free elections.
- A military mutiny and resulting civil war in 1998 eventually led to Vieira’s ouster in May 1999.
- In February 2000, a transitional government turned over power to opposition leader Kumba Yala, after he was elected president in transparent polling.
- In September 2003, after only three years in office, Yala was ousted by the military in a bloodless coup, and businessman Henrique Rosa was sworn in as interim president.
- In 2005, former President Vieira was re-elected president pledging to pursue economic development and national reconciliation.
(from the CIA World FactBook)
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