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Soldiers Seize Power in Sao Tome and Principe
VOA News
16 Jul 2003, 12:44 UTC

Soldiers in the tiny West African island nation of Sao Tome and Principe have staged a coup, detaining government officials and the country's first female prime minister.

Maria das Neves was taken away by mutineers along with Oil Minister Joaquim Rafael Branco. President Fradique de Menezes is currently in Nigeria on a private visit. Soldiers also took control of state television and radio, which went off the air, and key buildings.

The coup in the former Portuguese colony began earlier Wednesday, with the sound of gunfire in the capital, Sao Tome. No injuries have been reported. In a statement broadcast over state radio, rebellion leaders ordered all government officials and lawmakers to report to police headquarters. They gave no explanation for the coup and made no demands.

Sao Tome comprises several small islands off the coast of West Africa and has a population of about 170,000 people. It is one of the world's poorest countries, but potential oil reserves in its coastal waters have increased political tensions.

Arguments over oil have fueled political instability in recent months. In January, President de Menezes dissolved parliament and called early elections because of a dispute with lawmakers over oil negotiations. The president later reinstated parliament and a new constitution was approved this year limiting the powers of the presidency.

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