Military coup in Sierra Leone

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The Independent Online
CHRISTO JOHNSON

Reuter

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.

State radio said Captain Strasser 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 last weekend declined an invitation to stand as a candidate for the National Unity Party. He had insisted elections should go ahead next month to return the country to civilian rule, despite continued fighting with rebels.

The new leadership declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew and said all ministers should report to defence headquarters for consultations. The announcement was made on state radio by the country's director of defence information, Lieutenant Colonel Karifa Kargbo.

The announcement said the new leadership 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.

"Any soldiers except those under special military command are instructed to keep off the street," the announcement said.

A Freetown resident said there were troops on the capital's streets but the city was calm.

Captain Strasser, 29, took power in a coup in April 1992, overthrowing the civilian government of Joseph Momoh and promising to end the rebel war.

The fighting has wrecked the country's mining-based economy and driven more than a third of the country's 4 million people from their homes.

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