Magazine article Geographical

Guinea-Bissau

Magazine article Geographical

Guinea-Bissau

Article excerpt

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In March, soldiers assassinated Guinea-Bissau's president, Joao Bernardo Vieira, apparently in retaliation for the death of the army chief of staff, who was killed in an explosion a few hours earlier. Whether the president was responsible for General Batista Tagme Na Wai's death is unclear, with some suggesting that the killing bore the hallmarks of an attack by drug cartels.

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The double assassination was the culmination of a long-running feud between the two. Last November, renegade soldiers attacked the presidential palace following presidential polls in which Vieira's alliance was heavily defeated. The apparent coup attempt was eventually foiled and Vieira escaped unharmed.

Located in West Africa, between Guinea and Senegal, Guinea-Bissau is a small country of 36,000 square kilometres, with a population of around 1.5 million, composed of a number of ethnic and tribal groupings. A former Portuguese colony (Portuguese remains the official language), it achieved independence in 1974. Since then, it has experienced regular political turmoil, with the military playing an important role in shaping political life. Much of this turmoil has centred on Vieira, who has returned repeatedly to the role of president via both the ballot box and military intervention.

He originally came to power in 1980 following a coup in which the country's first post-independence president, Luis de Almeida Cabral, was overthrown. He was elected president in 1984 and almost overthrown in a coup attempt in 1985. He won again in 1989 and 1994.

In 1998, Vieira dismissed the army chief, precipitating a military rebellion that spread into civil war. In May the following year, his government was overthrown and he was forced into political exile. Democracy was restored in January 2000, but then the army intervened once again in September 2003, removing the government of President Kumba Iala. The subsequent restoration of democracy gave Vieira another opportunity to re-enter politics and he won the presidential election in July 2005. On this occasion, his return to power was judged by European observers to be 'calm and organised', notwithstanding concerns over disturbances during the campaign. …

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