Page last updated at 14:15 GMT, Thursday, 8 April 2010 15:15 UK

Guinea-Bissau shrugs off latest coup attempt

Street life in Bissau
Bissau's street traders have resumed business after last week's trouble

By Rose Skelton

On the pavement outside Bissau's central market, traders do a brisk business in tropical fruits, cigarettes and airmail envelopes, just a week after Guinea-Bissau's latest coup attempt.

It was no April's Fools joke when on 1 April, army officers captured the prime minister and the army chief of staff, throwing the country's already fragile political system further into turmoil.

Seven days later, women in bright outfits call out witty remarks to the steady stream of locals and foreign aid-workers who make their way through Bissau's pot-holed streets, in the hope of selling the colourful cashew fruits, which are one of the country's most important crops.

As evening falls and the traders noisily pack up their wares for the day, the atmosphere in this small city seems as jovial as ever.

Business as normal

On the streets of the capital Bissau, where people euphemistically refer to the situation as "the incident", life apparently goes on as normal.

Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior in the middle of a crowd of his supporters
Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior (in blue shirt) was freed by his supporters

"Last Thursday there was some panic and worry," says Thierno Amadou Ba, a young cigarette seller from neighbouring Guinea-Conakry.

"We heard what happened on the radio and I took my bags and went home.

"The next day I came back to the market to sell, though there wasn't a lot of business.

"The situation is a bit tense but now it's mostly calm. There's not a lot happening."

The soldiers entered the office of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior and detained him along with the army chief of staff Gen Jose Zamora Induta.

Bissau residents say people came out onto the streets to protest, burning tyres and demanding that the soldiers release Mr Gomes.

The former head of the Guinea Bissau navy Rear Admiral Jose Americo Bubo Na Tchuto and Vice Chief of Staff Gen Antonio Indjai announced on the radio that people should go back to their homes or they would kill the prime minister and shoot civilians.

The soldiers later released Prime Minister Gomes but Gen Induta is still being held.

Spreading rumours

While life goes on as normal in Bissau, local analysts and journalists are reluctant to talk openly about the situation for fear of fuelling the rumours which are spreading around town.

Similarly, people on the streets appear nervous when asked about the events or what may happen next.

If there is no justice in a country, you can't say it's on the right path
Carlos Vamain

One of the traders at the central market, who gave only his first name, Alpha, said that while business in Bissau went on as normal he was worried about who would take over as the head of the army.

"Zamora is intelligent and well-trained," says Mr Ba, leaning on the wooden post of his stationary stand.

"The military does not know how to speak to the government in a democratic way - they only know how to use force.

"Zamora should come back, or anyone else who has an education and can open the dialogue with the government.

"We do not want to see a man in power who has no education and can only speak Creole," he says referring to the local language, a mix of Portuguese and African languages.

Unpredictable future

In Bissau's old town, where the crumbling Portuguese colonial buildings tell of decades of civil war and neglect, the streets bustle with people coming and going from ministries and small banks.

The narrow streets, with only a few patches of tarmac remaining, the rest covered with red mud and rocks, shudder with the noise of small electricity generators - Bissau has no grid electricity to speak of.

An army truck carrying soldiers drives by and a group of shoe-menders perched on low stools on the pavement looks up briefly before going back to work.

"The future is unpredictable," says Carlos Vamain, a local jurist and political analyst.

"The country has never known stability because of the relationship between the politicians and the military.

"People went out to protest against the military coup last week but they were dispersed by the military and everyone went home and back to their life.

"But it's not finished, the problem's not fixed.

"If there is no justice in a country, you can't say it's on the right path."

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