Northern Ireland

Paisley vows to return to country after coup

The North Antrim MP Ian Paisley says a military coup will not deter him from returning to the West African country of Guinea-Bissau.

The DUP MP, who is an unpaid mediator in the country's peace process, has described the atmosphere as a "difficult and tense situation".

Image caption Ian Paisley has vowed to return to the trouble country

Reports from Guinea Bissau show that soldiers have taken control of much of the capital in what appears to be a coup attempt.

Heavy gunfire was heard in the city of Bissau and at the residence of outgoing Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior.

Troops also took control of the national radio station and ruling party's headquarters.

Mr Gomes came first in an inconclusive presidential election last month, but failed to win outright.

His whereabouts and that of the interim president, Raimundo Pereira, are unknown.

Military press attache Francelino Cunha told the Associated Press that Mr Gomes had been arrested in his home, the scene of gunfire and military activity on Thursday evening.

In a statement read on state radio, the military said it had acted to halt what it called foreign intervention.

It alleged the interim government had done a secret deal to allow Angolan troops to wipe out Guinea-Bissau's army.

Ian Paisley told the BBC he had spent much of the last 15 hours on the telephone talking to people in the country.

He said: " It's a classic textbook military coup."

He added that he feared Carlos Gomes could have been murdered.

Since becoming independent from Portugal in 1974, the country has witnessed a civil war, a dictatorship, and three coups.

Image caption Guinea-Bissau is in west Africa

None of the previous democratically-elected leaders have ever finished a term in office.

After visiting the country in recent months, Ian Paisley said he got a sense the state was "getting over its past".

He told the BBC that the "army has a vested interest in controlling everything".

On the MP's most recent trip to the country he was joined by Seamus Magee from the Electoral Commission and former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland.

They were part of an official election observation mission and spent time visiting polling stations across the country.

Duncan McCausland said they found no evidence in the most recent election of fraud or vote-rigging.

He said, however: "There was an atmosphere at the end of the election which suggested that there was unease amongst the military."

The former policeman said he was not surprised the army had taken to the streets and said such activity "perpetuates instability and undermines security and justice".

Mr McCausland had hoped to return to the country this month to observe fresh elections after last month's poll, which Carlos Gomes topped, had proved inconclusive.

Carlos Gomes, one of nine candidates, secured 49% of the poll, but since he did not gain over 50% there was a run-off vote planned for later this month. That has now been cancelled.

Ian Paisley, who was asked by the UN to act as a mediator, says he plans to return to Guinea Bissau as soon as possible.

He says the coup simply reinforces the importance of international involvement in this part of West Africa.

He says he "would not leave the country high and dry ".

The North Antrim MP says he hopes to travel to Guinea Bissau in the next few weeks.

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