Fighting broke out overnight between two factions of Guinea-Bissau’s army in the capital and continued early on Friday after armed soldiers from the national guard freed a minister who had been detained for suspected misuse of public funds.
The head of the national guard has since been arrested, an army source said. Street life in the city centre appeared to be back to normal by late morning.
Gunshots started at around 2300 GMT on Thursday about two kilometres away from the presidential palace in the capital Bissau. An apparent exchange of fire was also heard after midnight in the neighbourhood of Antula, on the outskirts of the capital, where the head of the military lives.
The gunfire persisted on Friday morning, as army vehicles circulated in the streets and residents commuted to work and school. It has since stopped and army roadblocks cleared. Soldiers are no longer barring access to the presidential palace’s surroundings.
“The presidency has nothing to do with it,” a communications assistant said, adding that there was no reaction on their behalf.
Guinea-Bissau, a West African nation of around 2 million inhabitants that sits between Senegal and Guinea, has seen frequent turmoil since it gained independence from Portugal in 1974.
There have been at least 10 coups or attempted coups, and only one democratically elected president has completed a full term in almost four decades. At least six people were killed during a failed attempt to overthrow Embalo in February 2022.
A police source said the shooting on Thursday started after heavily armed members of the national guard stormed a police station to free Finance Minister Suleimane Seidi, arrested earlier that night.
The minister was detained over six billion CFA francs ($9.95 million) allegedly disbursed from public coffers without permission, the source said. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
The secretary of state for the treasury, Antonio Monteiro, has also been arrested, according to the police.
Seidi is a member of the former ruling PAIGC party, which leads the coalition that won a majority in legislative elections in June.
The result quashed Embalo’s plans to push through a constitutional change that would have allowed him to consolidate power by removing the country’s semi-presidential system. The PAIGC is opposed to this.
The national guard reports to parliament, while the military reports to the president.
The developments follow a spate of coups in a region that had been making strides toward shedding its reputation for military-led takeovers. Overall there have been eight coups in West and Central Africa in the last three years.
Sierra Leone’s government foiled an attempt to overthrow it over the weekend. More than 20 people were killed as gunmen in the capital Freetown attacked army barracks, a prison and other locations on Sunday, freeing about 2,200 inmates.