A top military officer in Guinea-Bissau claimed to have seized control of the nation's army and the prime minister was briefly detained, signs of another possible coup in crisis-struck West Africa.
The tiny coastal country plunged into confusion early Thursday after the deputy chief of staff of the army, Antonio Indjai, announced the arrest of his immediate boss, army chief Zamora Induta.A government spokesman said Friday that Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. was released from house arrest. Mamudu Djau said that soldiers left Mr. Gomes's home, but police remain there to maintain order, according to the Associated Press. Mr. Djau said that the prime minister will meet with the president Friday to discuss the coup attempt.
It remained unclear who is running the army, the most powerful institution in the country.
The clash was the latest in a number of disputes that have erupted within Guinea-Bissau's elite leadership circle—and have often led to struggles for the nation's power.
President Malam Bacai Sanha told journalists in the capital, Bissau, that "there was confusion between the military which spilled on the government, but the situation is calm," according to Angolan official news agency Angola Press. The president didn't speak directly about the arrest of the prime minister.
A United Nations envoy met with the president earlier in the day "to express the international community's concerns about the situation," said Vladimir Montero, a spokesman in the capital Bissau for a mission of the U.N.
The whereabouts of the army chief weren't immediately known. "We don't have information about the chief of staff," said Mr. Montero.
Representatives for Guinea-Bissau's president, prime minister and chief of staff couldn't be reached for comment.
The chaotic unfolding of the day's events has rekindled concerns about the political stability not only of Guinea-Bissau, but the broader resource-rich West African region as well.
In neighboring Guinea-Conakry, which holds large bauxite reserves, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara was shot in the head by another soldier last year after he seized power in a coup in December 2008. The captain, who left the country for medical treatment, later stepped aside for a transition government led by a civilian prime minister. And in uranium-rich Niger, a military junta staged a coup in February against the government of President Mamadou Tandja.
Richard Moncrieff, the International Crisis Group's project director in West Africa, says there's a tradition in the region of military intervention in politics. But while military dictatorships have given way in recent decades to democracies, the pendulum appears to be swinging back amid rampant corruption, chronic misgovernance and enduring poverty.
"There's a total disenchantment with 20 years of democracy," he said. "It's not that people are rejecting democracy, but they don't know how to make it work."
The Economic Community of West African States, a group of the region's governments, said it had learned with "dismay and serious concern" of a bid to plunge Guinea-Bissau into turmoil.
The nation of 1.5 million people relies largely on agriculture, exporting cashews and tropical fruits. Much of the political tension has arisen from conflicts between the president, who is the chief of state, and the prime minister, the head of government.
Guinea-Bissau has been in political turmoil since the assassination in March last year of a top military general, and President João Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, who had ruled the country for most of its short period of independence from Portuguese rule in 1974.
After multiple coup attempts, Guinea-Bissau erupted into civil war in 1998. Mr. Vieira was ousted by soldiers the following year before returning to power for four years prior to his killing.
On Thursday, residents of Bissau said that the streets were mostly calm as speculation of another coup filtered through the city. Some businesses had been closed and traffic was light, residents said.
A director general at one of the key ministries said all staff had left the office. "There is no problem," he said. He then added: "We never know."