Video: Soldiers assassinate Guinea-Bissau's leader

updated 3/2/2009 11:16:34 AM ET 2009-03-02T16:16:34

Renegade soldiers assassinated the president of Guinea-Bissau in his palace Monday, hours after a bomb blast killed his rival, but the military said that no coup was in progress in the fragile West African nation.

The military statement broadcast on state radio attributed President Joao Bernardo Vieira's death to an "isolated" group of unidentified soldiers whom the military said it was now hunting down.

Luis Sanca, security adviser to Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr., confirmed the president had died but gave no details.

The military said the armed forces would respect the constitutional order, which calls for parliament chief Raimundo Pereira to succeed the president in the event of his death.

It also dismissed claims that the armed forces headquarters was implicated in Vieira's killing as a retaliation for the assassination late Sunday of armed forces chief of staff Gen. Batiste Tagme na Waie at his headquarters in Bissau.

The two men were considered staunch political rivals and both had survived assassination attempts in recent months.

Poverty, coups and cocaine
The former Portuguese colony has suffered multiple coups and attempted coups since 1980, when Vieira himself first took power in one. The United Nations says Guinea-Bissau, an impoverished nation on the Atlantic coast of Africa, has become a key transit point for cocaine smuggled from Latin America to Europe.

Bissau was remarkably calm on Monday despite the president's death, and traffic flowed normally in some parts of town.

Just hours after Waie's death late Sunday, volleys of automatic gunfire were heard for at least two hours before dawn in Bissau and residents said soldiers had converged on Vieira's palace.

The Portuguese news agency LUSA reported that troops attacked with rockets and rifles. The president's press chief, Barnabe Gomes, escaped from the house after being struck by a bullet in his right shoulder, LUSA said.

It was the second attack on Vieira in recent months. In November, Vieira's residence was attacked by renegade soldiers with automatic weapons. At least one guard was killed in the failed coup attempt that was repulsed by loyalist security forces.

Waie also survived an apparent assassination attempt when unidentified attackers opened fire on his car in January.

Waie killed by blast
It was not immediately clear what caused the blast that killed Waie. Defense Minister Artur Silva and other top officials contacted by The Associated Press declined to comment.

On Sunday in Bissau, troops closed roads around the armed forces building and prevented reporters from approaching. The British Broadcasting Corp. reported that the blast had destroyed part of the building.

Soldiers also shut down the city's five private radio stations, said Zikue Swaeibi, a journalist at one of them, Radio Bombolom. State radio was on the air, but it played only traditional music and there were no news broadcasts.

The three soldiers wounded in the blast were taken to the main public hospital. An AP reporter who visited the hospital saw that two of the soldiers were covered in blood and a third suffered severe burns.

In Lisbon, the Portuguese Foreign Ministry lamented Vieira's death and said it was "fundamental that all political and military authorities in the country respect the constitutional order."

Portugal said it would call an emergency meeting of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, an eight-member organization based in Lisbon.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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