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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 July, 2003, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
The Sao Tome coup-makers
Sabino Santos
Sabino Santos first tried to take power in the 1980s
The leader of Wednesday's coup in Sao Tome and Principe, Major Fernando Pereira, says he seized power because of inequality and corruption - the usual justifications given for Africa's military takeovers.

Two of his comrades in arms are former mercenaries, who have a history of making trouble.

But President Fradique de Menezes says the junta is itself only interested in the oil money, which the impoverished island nation is expecting to start earning in the next few years.

They [coup leaders] are regarded as delinquents, not political leaders.
Sao Lima, BBC Portuguese Service
"This is all a problem of oil," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

"The oil is coming and people are smelling that. People want the money yesterday and not tomorrow."


Sao Tome and Nigeria are jointly developing offshore oil fields and hope that if found the oil could start flowing by 2007.

They are due to start auctioning oil exploration permits next year for an estimated $100m - a huge amount in one of the world's poorest countries, where average yearly income is just $280 per head.

But Major Pereira has not mentioned oil in his public statements.

"It is inconceivable that the majority of the population are living in poverty while a group of people are living a life of luxury, laughing at the misery of others," said the head of a centre for military training, explaining why he took power.

Sao Lima, a Sao Tome journalist with the BBC's Portuguese for Africa service, says that there is massive dissatisfaction in Sao Tome over falling living standards, with frequent strikes by civil servants.

She says that the government has been giving funds to the Christian Democratic Front (FDC) of Major Pereira's fellow coup leaders Alercio and Sabino Santos.

However Prime Minister Maria das Neves, currently detained by the rebels, recently talked about "cutting off the milk supplies".

Following their time with South Africa's Executive Outcomes, they have often threatened to exploit popular discontent over rising poverty and inequality.

The FDC is Sao Tome's oldest political party and the pair staged an abortive coup in the late 1980s to end one-party rule.

But it does not have a single seat in parliament and Sao Lima says: "They are regarded as delinquents, not political leaders."


She suspects that other, so far unnamed, political interests may also be behind the coup.

President Fradique de Menezes
The president has sidelined powerful politicians in just two years

President de Menezes is a straight-talking businessman who has sidelined several powerful politicians in his two years in power.

He has sacked four prime ministers and dissolved parliament since winning elections in 2001.

He also has a knack for putting his foot in his mouth and had to issue a public apology after being taken to court for offending a former prime minister.

He is now learning the hard way that it is far more difficult to run a country, even if it may be oil rich, than to run a successful business.

Oil key to Sao Tome
16 Jul 03  |  Africa
Sao Tome plans oil budget
27 May 03  |  Business
US eyes African oil
09 Oct 02  |  Africa
Drenched in Sao Tome e Principe
02 Mar 02  |  From Our Own Correspondent
Country profile: Sao Tome and Principe
27 May 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Sao Tome and Principe
16 Jul 03  |  Country profiles


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