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Military Coup Ousts Government Of Sao Tome and Principe
VOA News
16 Jul 2003, 20:17 UTC

Military forces in the tiny island nation of Sao Tome and Principe have toppled the government in a bloodless coup.

In an interview with VOA Wednesday, coup leader Major Fernando Pereira said he staged the takeover on behalf of the people of Sao Tome. He says they live in sub-human conditions and have been forgotten by those in power.

Major Pereira also told VOA he has created the Junta for the National Salvation, which he said will prepare the nation for new elections. However, he gave no timetable.

Hundreds of rebellious soldiers seized power early Wednesday while Sao Tome president Fradique de Menezes was in Nigeria. Reuters news agency quotes the president as appealing to world leaders to restore him to power.

No injuries or deaths have been reported.

As troops began their takeover, the nation's first female prime minister, Maria das Neves, and Oil Minister Joaquim Rafael Branco were arrested. Soldiers also seized control of key buildings, including state run radio and television.

The country's former colonial ruler, Portugal, along with Nigeria, Mozambique, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan have condemned the coup. The United States also denounced the military takeover and said it might cut assistance to the West African island nation.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher demanded that the junta immediately release all arrested government officials.

Sao Tome and Principe is made up of several small islands off the coast of west Africa and has a population of about 150,000 people. It is one of the world's poorest countries.

However, the expected windfall from oil exploration has caused political wrangling and infighting.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.

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