Freetown - Captain Valentine Strasser, Sierra Leone's head of state, was overthrown yesterday and replaced by his deputy and armed forces chief, Captain Julius Maada Bio.
Sierra Leone, a former British colony, is the world's poorest country, regularly appearing at the bottom of the United Nation's annual World Development Index. Rebels have been fighting since 1991, wrecking the country's mining-based economy.
State radio said Captain Strasser, 29, had been removed because he attempted to force his National Provisional Ruling Council to pass decrees enabling him to stay in power.
Informed diplomats have said in the past it was Captain Bio rather than Captain Strasser who appeared anxious to remain in power.
Captain Strasser, who overthrew a civilian government in April 1992 and promised to end the war, last weekend declined an invitation to stand as a candidate for the National Unity Party. He had insisted that elections should go ahead next month to return the country to civilian rule.
The new leadership declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew and instructed troops to stay off the streets. It said it would be holding talks with the national electoral commission and traditional chiefs about the elections. It said Captain Strasser had left the country and the new chairman would address the nation soon.
A Freetown resident said there were troops on the capital's streets but the city was calm.