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Army seizes power in Guinea-Bissau coup

LISBON, Portugal — Soldiers ousted the president of the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau on Sunday, taking advantage of widespread discontent with his rule to seize power in a bloodless coup.

The army chief of staff, Gen. Verissimo Correia Seabre, declared himself in charge of the country after the early morning arrest of President Kumba Yala. A dawn-to-dusk curfew was imposed, and soldiers patrolled the streets of the capital Bissau with automatic weapons and grenade launchers.

Several African countries including Nigeria and Senegal condemned the coup, as did Portugal, the former colonial ruler. But some residents expressed relief as much as alarm.

"It's all calm. People aren't afraid," a man said by phone from the capital. "Everyone seems happy about (the coup). The country was being so badly run that someone had to do something." He gave only his first name, Jorge.

Guinea-Bissau, a nation the size of Massachusetts with a population of about 1 million, is one of the world's poorest countries. The average annual gross domestic product per capita is roughly $180, according to the World Bank.

Food shortages are common, and basic public services don't work. The country is without electricity and many people lack even plumbing. Soldiers and public sector employees have not been paid for more than six months.

The army announced the takeover by radio at 8 a.m. local time. Within hours a military committee was established to govern the country, with Seabre in charge.