Coup attempt fails in Guinea-Bissau

The president of Guinea-Bissau has reassured residents of the West African nation by news conference from his bullet-scarred home after mutinous soldiers fought their way into the residence in a three-hour gunbattle with his guards.

In an apparent coup attempt, the soldiers attacked President Joao Bernardo Vieira's home yesterday with heavy artillery fire shortly after midnight, killing at least one of his guards and injuring several others before security forces were able to push them back, Interior Minister Cipriano Cassama said earlier. The attackers did not reach the room where Vieira was hiding and neither he nor his wife was hurt, Cassama said.

"These people attacked my residence with a single objective — to physically liquidate me," Vieira told the nation in a late afternoon televised news conference. "No one has the right to massacre the people of Guinea-Bissau in order to steal power by means of the gun."

The walls of his fortified house were scarred with bullets and its floors still were littered with shell casings.

But calm appeared to have returned the capital, Bissau, and Vieira assured citizens that "the situation is under control."

Guinea-Bissau has had multiple coups and attempted coups since 1980, when Vieira himself first took power in one.

The UN says impoverished Guinea-Bissau, on the Atlantic coast of Africa, is a key transit point for cocaine smuggled from Latin America to Europe. In parliamentary elections held a week ago, opposition leader and former President Kumba Yala accused Vieira of being the country's top drug trafficker. The president did not comment on the accusation.

Neighboring Senegal's president, Abdoulaye Wade, ordered troops to the border with Guinea-Bissau on Sunday after receiving a panicked phone call from Vieira in the night, Wade's spokesman El Hadj Amadou Sall said.

"The troops will stay at the border until we are sure the situation has stabilized," Sall said.

The African Union quickly condemned the attack.

The AU rejects "any unconstitutional change of government and condemns in advance any attempt to seize power by force," AU commission chairman Jean Ping said in a statement.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack, his spokesman said. Ban noted "with great concern reports of the alleged involvement of elements of the Armed Forces of Guinea-Bissau in the attack, and calls upon them to refrain from any measures that could further destabilize the country," the spokesman said in a statement.

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