(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Junta insists on Artur Sanha as prime minister

The military junta ruling Guinea-Bissau insisted on Tuesday that Antonio Artur Sanha should become the civilian prime minister of a transitional government charged with organising fresh elections.

The junta over-rode objections to Sanha's appointment by most of the country's political leaders and said in a communique that his appointment had been approved in a vote by a majority of its 25 members.

Sanha is the secretary general of the Social Renovation Party (PRS) of former president Kumba Yala, who was deposed in a bloodless coup on 14 September.

He fell out with Kumba Yala in 2001 when he was sacked as interior minister. However Sanha's appointment as prime minister was opposed on Monday by 15 of the 17 political parties which have been holding talks with the country's military leaders.

Some said the post should go to a political independent, while others recalled suspiscions that Sanha may have killed Florinda Baptista, a woman that he was alleged to have had an affair with, shortly before he was sacked from the cabinet. Murder charges raised against him were eventually dropped for lack of evidence

All agreed, however, with the junta's choice of Henrique Rosa, a respected businessman who was head of the National Electoral Commission during Guinea-Bissau's first multi-party elections in 1994, as president of the interim government.

Although the military communique said the junta would hand over power to a civilian government led by rosa and sanha, it did not say when.

The country's political and military leaders must now thrash out a timetable for holding elections and returning this former Portuguese colony of 1.3 million people to constitutional rule.

An ad-hoc commission of political leaders and military officers chaired by Jose Camnate Na Bissign, the Roman Catholic bishop of Bissau, proposed last Friday that parliamentary elections be held in six months' time and presidential elections a year later.

The presidents of Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal visited Guinea-Bissau last week to press the military junta, led by General Verissimo Correia Seabra, for a rapid return to civilian rule.

Portugal's secretary of state for foreign affairs and overseas development, Antonio Lourenco dos Santos, arrived on Tuesday to hold talks with local leaders on the country's future.

Although Kumba Yala was elected with a strong majority in free and fair elections in early 2000, he soon alienated most of his former supporters. His government became increasingly erratic and his overthrow was greeted with widespread relief at home.

Kumba Yala dissolved parliament in November last year after it passed a vote of no confidence in his rule and then delayed four times the holding of fresh legislative elections.

He also engaged in endless cabinet reshuffles and his bankrupt government owed soldiers, civil servants, teachers and hospital workers several months of pay arrears.

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