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Obituary: President Vieira of Guinea-Bissau

President Joao Bernardo Vieira (file photo)
Vieira was killed shortly after the death of the army chief

Joao Bernardo Vieira led Guinea-Bissau for more than half of its time as an independent state.

A military man, his turbulent history mirrors that of his country.

He first came to power through a military coup and has also been ousted by rival soldiers.

Widely known by his nickname "Nino", he twice won elections, before being shot dead apparently in revenge for the killing of the army chief of staff.

When he was born in 1939, Guinea-Bissau was still a Portuguese colony.

His first job was reportedly an electrician.

But in 1960, he joined the African Party for the Independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC) and fought in the struggle against Portugal.

Independence was achieved in 1974 but the small country of 1.6 million people has been plagued by a history of instability and military dictatorships.

'God's gift'

President Vieira himself first came to power in the poor West African country in 1980 on the back of a military coup, while he was head of the armed forces.

JOAO BERNARDO VIEIRA
1939: Born
Electrician by trade
Key figure in struggle against Portuguese colonial rule
1980: Came to power in coup, as head of armed forces
1994: Won country's first multi-party elections
1999: Overthrown after sacking army chief
2005: Returned from exile to win presidential election

Eleven years later, he lifted the ban on political parties, before the country's first multi-party elections were held in 1994.

As the incumbent head of state and PAIGC candidate, he was duly elected president, although the opposition cried foul.

But he was toppled in 1999 after a power-struggle sparked when he sacked the army chief - an ominous pre-cursor for his eventual death 10 years later.

He had accused the army commander, General Ansumane Mane, of allowing weapons to be smuggled to rebels in neighbouring Senegal.

Later that year, Mr Vieira was expelled from the PAIGC for "treasonable offences, support and incitement to warfare, and practices incompatible with the statutes of the party".

Following another coup in 2003, he returned from political asylum in Portugal to win the presidency again as an independent candidate in 2005.

During his campaign, Mr Vieira described himself as God's gift to the people of Guinea-Bissau - coming back to once again lead them to development and prosperity.

He won 52% of the final second round of the poll described as "calm and organised" by European monitors.

But instability continued.

In November 2008, President Vieira narrowly escaped a midnight attempt on his life when rebel soldiers attacked his house.

He was eventually shot dead just hours after army chief of staff General Tagme Na Waie was killed in an explosion at military headquarters.

Soldiers close to General Tagme blamed the president and took revenge.

Mr Vieira had failed to learn the lesson about how dangerous it is to fall out with the army chief in Guinea-Bissau.

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SEE ALSO
G-Bissau leader survives attack
23 Nov 08 |  Africa
G Bissau winner calls for unity
29 Jul 05 |  Africa
Timeline: Guinea-Bissau
05 Jan 09 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Guinea-Bissau
14 Aug 08 |  Country profiles

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