The West African regional bloc has given Guinea-Bissau’s “illegal government” named by President Jose Mario Vaz a 48-hour ultimatum to resign or face sanctions, a representative said Wednesday, amid a tense standoff between the country’s leader and sacked ministers.
Vaz, appointed as president in 2014, has come under fire from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) for sacking his cabinet in October ahead of an election scheduled for November 24.
Vaz dismissed Prime Minister Aristides Gomes and his government on 29th October, in a shock move described as an “attempted coup” by the premier who has refused to step down.
He replaced the outgoing ministers with Faustino Imbali as the new head of government and a team of 17 ministers and 14 secretaries of state.
Ecowas appealed “to all those who have been improperly installed in the illegal government of Mr Faustino Imbali to resign,” Blaise Diplo, the Ecowas representative of Guinea Bissau told reporters on Wednesday.
On Tuesday evening Vaz convened the National Defence Council and ordered it to form a joint taskforce to “facilitate access to government institutions” by Imbali and his colleagues, according to a statement released Wednesday.
Vaz “gives the government of Aristide Gomes 24 hours”, it added, raising fears of further tensions.
Gomes told reporters on Wednesday that the national defence meeting was “illegal” because his government was excluded.
“Everything done to overthrow the current government stems from an attempted coup,” he said.
Diplo, of Ecowas, warned current ministers should “distance themselves from all initiatives to undermine the next presidential elections” and said they have “48 hours to make their decision to resign”.
He said they would face heavy sanctions after November 7 if they failed to step down.
On Sunday, Ecowas reiterated its support for Gomes and asked Vaz to reconsider the dismissals. But Vaz defended his actions later Sunday, telling a campaign rally: “I will never reconsider my decision.”
The UN Security Council last Friday called for the authorities to respect the November 24 presidential election date and rejected Vaz’s appointment of the new government. The African Union and European Union have also criticised Vaz.
The EU said in a statement last week that the “illegal attempt” to dismiss the government “threatens to derail the ongoing electoral process in Guinea-Bissau”.