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President says no coup, PM under house arrest

media Bubo Na Tchute (L) leaving the UN compound UNIOGBIS/AFP

The President of Guinea-Bissau, Malam Bacai Sanha, says there has not been a coup d’etat, dismissing Thursday’s detention of the Prime Minister and Army Chief of Staff as military infighting. Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior remains under police surveillance and the Army Chief of Staff is still in military custody.

“The soldiers that kept the Prime Minister yesterday have already left the area, so he is under the surveillance of the police, and not the army,” says Miguel Martins of RFI's Portuguese language service, who has been monitoring the situation in Guinnea-Bissau.

The country was calm Friday, as people observed Good Friday. Shops closed early Thursday after hundreds of demonstrators gathered in the capital demanding the release of Prime Gomes Junior, known as "Kadogo".

He was later released by the military and is under house arrest.

The Army Chief of Staff, General Jose Zamora Induta, who was also arrested Thursday, remains in military custody at a base near the airport, along with 40 army officers.

President Sanha, who acknowledged that Induta is being detained, said the situation in the country is under control.

“He says it is a problem between soldiers,” says Martins. “That the situation has been solved so far, that he’s sending someone to visit the former chief of staff, who is under arrest near the airport. So it’s not a coup d’état, for the president Malam Bacai Sanha.”

Deputy army chief of staff General Antonio Indjai, who appeared to be directing the action, also said the situation was a purely military matter.

“The events of Thursday morning are a purely military matter which therefore do not concern the civil power in place,” said Indjai in a statement read on national radio.

The turmoil in Guinea-Bissau is related to the drug trade, according to Le Monde's Jean-Philippe Rémi. The former Portuguese colony has become a key transit point in cocaine smuggling between South America and Europe.

Former Navy chief, Admiral Bubo Na Tchuto, who is seen as one of the leaders of the latest unrest, left his refuge in the United Nations compound Thursday shortly before the Prime Minister was arrested.

Tchuto fled the country after allegedly leading a coup attempt in 2008. He is also suspected of being one of the main players in the country’s cocaine trade.

“He was very much connected with drug trafficking - smuggling drugs in Guinea-Bissau,” says Martins.

After leaving the compound, Tchuto addressed the crowd that had gathered in support of the Prime Minister, telling them to disperse “otherwise the army could make atrocities”, says Martins.

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