Heavy gunfire heard near the presidential palace in Guinea-Bissau
Armed men surrounded the presidential palace as West African bloc ECOWAS decried what it said is a coup attempt.
Several shots were heard near the Guinea-Bissau government palace, and the military has set up a security perimeter around the area and is not allowing civilians to pass.
Heavy gunfire has been heard in the capital of Guinea-Bissau near the seat of the government, according to media reports.
Armed men surrounded the government palace on Tuesday, where President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam were believed to have gone to attend a cabinet meeting.
The state broadcaster reported that the shooting has damaged the government palace, which is located close to the airport, and that “invaders” are holding government officials.
Watch below, how the gunshot started in front of the presidential palace
“ECOWAS is following with great concern the evolution of the situation in Guinea-Bissau … where military gunfire is taking place around the Government Palace,” the organisation said.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is “deeply concerned” by the reports from Guinea-Bissau, a spokesman said.
President Umaro Sissoco Embalo and cabinet members were in the compound, surrounded by the military, according to three sources — one diplomatic, one security and one police. The president and ministers’ exact situation was unclear.
Political instability has blighted Guinea-Bissau for decades, with nine coups or attempted coups since independence from Portugal in 1974.
The Portuguese embassy urged its citizens in Guinea-Bissau to stay at home.
A security source with contacts inside the Government Palace said an unknown number of people had been hit by gunfire. A second source said two people were dead, but it was unclear who they were.
Normally busy streets around the Government Palace were deserted on Tuesday afternoon, a civil society activist said. An unverified video shared on social media appeared to show a man standing outside the compound firing a rocket-propelled grenade.
Members of government did not answer telephone calls from Reuters seeking verification of what was happening.
Sissoco Embalo had begun chairing an extraordinary cabinet meeting at around 10 a.m., entering the building with a heavy security detail, a diplomatic source said.
The cabinet meeting was being held to prepare for a forthcoming ECOWAS summit in response to last week’s military coup in Burkina Faso.
Embalo and his prime minister, Nuno Gomes Nabiam, have been at odds for weeks. The prime minister voiced opposition to a minor government shake-up last week in which a handful of ministers were replaced.
The country was thrown into post-election turmoil two years ago when the runner-up Domingos Simoes Pereira and his powerful PAIGC party contested the results that handed Embalo the presidency. Pereira accused Embalo of illegally seizing power with the backing of the country’s military, which he denied.
West Africa has seen a rash of coups in the last 18 months. Emboldened by popular discontent, militaries in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso have seized power, reversing democratic gains that had seen the region shed its tag as Africa’s “coup belt”.