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Country in crisis after slaying of president

THE man in line to become Guinea-Bissau's interim leader briefly addressed the nation yesterday for the first time since the president's assassination brought about a power vacuum.

Parliamentary leader Raimundo Pereira, who will become interim president according to the constitution, said the West African country was "facing a very delicate situation."

In his comments, he called on the other delegates "to assume their responsibility toward the nation" in ensuring calm and the rule of law in the former Portuguese colony, which is struggling to stem a booming cocaine trade.

The military has blamed an "isolated group" of soldiers for Monday's assassination of President Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, who had ruled for 22 of the past 29 years.

The military denied the assassination was retribution for the killing a day earlier of Vieira's rival, armed forces chief of staff General Batiste Tagme na Waie.

Waie was killed on Sunday night when a bomb hidden inside his office went off.

Nigerian President Umaru Yar'Adua, who heads ECOWAS, a regional bloc of 15 African states, has dispatched a delegation to investigate. "The fragile political situation in Guinea-Bissau has been further weakened by these events," he said.

The country has suffered multiple coups and attempted coups since 1980 when Vieira himself took power in one. He was forced out 19 years later at the onset of the country's civil war, later returning from exile in Portugal to run in the country's 2005 election and win the vote.

A member of the minority Papel ethnic group, Vieira was in many ways an outsider. He always had a tense relationship with the army, which is made up primarily of officers from the majority Balanta ethnic group.

In the 1980s, after renegade soldiers attempted a coup against him, Vieira went after the top Balanta officers, systematically purging them in tribunals that condemned them to death.


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