Via Fox News
SAO TOME, São Tomé and Principe - Troops rebelled and detained the prime
minister Wednesday in São Tomé and Principe (search), a tiny island nation
off western Africa and one of the world's poorest countries, which has been
in turmoil since the recent discovery of oil.
Shots were heard before dawn, and Prime Minister Maria das Neves (search)
was arrested by renegade soldiers, Portuguese state radio Radiodifusao
Portuguesa reported. Other senior government officials, including Oil
Minister Rafael Branco, were also detained.
Sporadic gunshots could still be heard six hours later in the capital São
Tomé, though it was not clear whether the shots were from fighting or were
fired into the air as a warning. No injuries were reported.
The streets of São Tomé and Principe's capital were mostly empty. Public
buildings and shops remained closed.
In a brief statement read over state radio Radio Nacional de São Tomé, Maj.
Fernando Pereira - the head of military training and a participant in the
rebellion - ordered all government officials and lawmakers to report to
Health Minister Claudina Cruz and Justice Minister Justino Veiga, as well as
about 30 lawmakers out of the 55 who sit in Parliament, handed themselves
over to the mutineers, a police source said on condition of anonymity.
President Fradique de Menezes (search) was out of the country, on a private
visit to Nigeria.
The rebels have not said why they mutinied, nor was it immediately clear who
was leading the rebellion. Soldiers in recent months have complained about
low pay and poor living conditions. The country's armed forces number about
The Portuguese ambassador in São Tomé, Mario de Jesus Santos, was due to
meet the leaders of the revolt later Wednesday to discuss their grievances.
Army officers rebelled in 1995, forcing the government to step down and hold
new elections. They gave up their attempt to take power after the United
States and the European Union threatened to cut off vital aid.
The rebellious soldiers took control of the presidential palace, the
parliament building and the airport. They also seized the central bank and
the state radio and television headquarters in the capital of the former
The Portuguese ambassador said the city was calm. "We are waiting for some
clarification from the leaders [of the revolt] as to what they want," he
told Portuguese radio.
Das Neves was the country's first woman prime minister, appointed in
Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano (search), who is also president of the
African Union, urged the mutineers to give up their apparent power grab.
"We condemn this coup and demand that its perpetrators restore
constitutional order," Chissano said, quoted by the Portuguese national news
São Tomé and Principe, off the coast of Gabon, has a population of about
140,000 and is one of the world's poorest countries. But recent discoveries
of oil in the waters of the Gulf of Guinea have brought hopes of quick
The United States has made diplomatic overtures toward São Tomé and Principe
hoping it and other countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea can provide a
more stable source of oil than the Persian Gulf.
But feuding among rival political parties over the oil wealth has caused
political instability in recent years. The turmoil has stalled plans to
explore the oil reserves.
Since Menezes began his term in September 2001, he has fired four prime
ministers and dissolved Parliament once.
In January, Menezes revoked a decree that called for early elections and the
dissolving of Parliament after striking a deal with lawmakers eager to trim
Offshore development had been planned in conjunction with Nigeria.
International tenders for development of the oil reserves were recently
opened, though the results are not yet known
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