Thursday, 17 July 2003

Sao Tome (Fides Service) – There is confusion in Sao Tome and Principe, the small island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, after the army staged a coup during the night of 15 July. The rebel military led by the head of the Army Training Centre Fernando Pereira, also known as Cobo, took over the main government buildings and put under arrest Prime Minister Maria Das Neves hospitalised after collapsing during the coup. The rebels also arrested the chairman of Parliament, Dionisio Dias, the minister of Defence, Natural Resources and Infrastructures, as well as 15 members of parliament who surrendered to the rebel military. The President of Sao Tome and Principe, Frederic de Menezes, visiting Nigeria, and Foreign Minister Mateus Meira Rita in Portugal for a meeting of the Community of Portuguese speaking countries, both escaped arrest. A new military Junta has assumed the functions of government.
The coup leaders say the aim of the revolt is to deal with “the difficult social economic conditions of the country” and the Junta promised to “announce in the next few hours which organs will lead our country during this stage of transition.”
The international community has condemned the coup starting with former colonial ruler, Portugal. The United States and African Union and several European countries have condemned the revolt. Particularly significant disapproval expressed by Nigeria and Angola, two of Africa’s largest oil producers. The former recently signed an agreement with Sao Tome and Principe for joint exploitation of oil in the Gulf of Guinea and Angola, another former Portuguese colony, helped the Sao Tome and Principe government to repress an earlier revolt in 1995.
The 70,000 inhabitants of the island are considered among the poorest people in the world; the annual income per head is 280 US$. The recent discovery of rich oil deposits in a stretch of sea shared with Nigeria gave rise to hopes for better living conditions. LM (Fides Service 17/7/2003 EM lines 28 Words: 353)