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Guinea-Bissau 'under control,' president says after coup attempt

The file photo shows soldiers patrolling the government palace area in Guinea-Bissau's capital.(By AFP)

Guinea-Bissau's President Umaro Sissoco Embalo has called for calm after surviving an attempted coup to overthrow him, stressing that the situation is "under control" in the West African country, which has suffered repeated military takeovers.

Embalo made the remarks during a national address broadcast on Tuesday, after unidentified armed men attacked the government palace in the capital, Bissau, where the president was attending a cabinet meeting.

Embalo said the attackers had tried to enter the compound, but security forces were able to repel them after engaging in an exchange of fire with the assailants for hours. He said "many" members of the security forces had been killed in the "failed attack against democracy," adding that people involved in drug trafficking might have been involved in  the "well prepared and organized" attack, without giving further details.

"It wasn't just a coup," Embalo said. "It was an attempt to kill the president, the prime minister, and the entire cabinet."

Earlier in the day, heavy gunfire was reportedly heard near the government palace in Guinea-Bissau's capital, sparking fears of a coup attempt in the West African country. The situation was unclear for several hours.

The state broadcaster reported that the shooting had damaged the government palace, and that "invaders" were holding government officials.

However, Embalo said in a video posted on the presidency's Facebook page hours later that calm had returned to the country and that some of the people involved in the failed putsch had been arrested, but he did not know how many. He also suggested that the army had not been involved in the Tuesday attack.

"I can assure you that no camp joined this attempted coup. It was isolated. It is linked to people we have fought against," he said, without elaborating.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the attempted coup, saying it is "following with great concern the evolution of the situation in Guinea-Bissau."

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres also said he was "deeply concerned" by what was going on in Bissau, calling for "an immediate end to the fighting and for full respect of the country's democratic institutions."

The latest development came a week after the military in Burkina Faso, another country in the region, deposed the president there. On January 24, mutinous soldiers detained President President Roch Marc Christian Kabore. They later released a handwritten letter in which he announced his resignation.

Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups after successful putsches over the past 18 months in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. The military also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield.

Since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has experienced four coup d'etats and more than a dozen attempted coups.

The small nation of about 1.5 million people has long been beset by corruption and drug trafficking. In the 2000s, it became known as a transit point for cocaine between Latin America and Europe, as traffickers profited from corruption and weak law enforcement.

US and European authorities have long suspected that some in the country's military are involved in the drug trade.

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