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Bissau parliament blocks amnesty bill for coup leaders

Reuters

BISSAU (Reuters) - Guinea Bissau's parliament blocked a bill on Tuesday that would give immunity to the leaders of a military coup last year, rejecting a measure being pushed by an interim government ahead of elections in November.

Soldiers under the command of General Antonio Injai, head of Guinea-Bissau's armed forces, toppled President Raimundo Pereira and Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Junior last year, days before a runoff election Gomes Junior was favored to win.

Injai, who evaded U.S. attempts to detain him in a drug sting earlier this year, vowed last month never to resign from office, casting doubts on the army's willingness to relinquish its control over the running of the small West African country.

Only 40 members of the 100-seat national parliament voted in favor of the bill, falling short of the 50 percent threshold needed to approve it. Twenty-five legislators voted against it and seven abstained.

Florentino Mendes Pereira, secretary general of the PRS party, said it would seek another opportunity to introduce the measure before the November 24 presidential election meant to seal a democratic transition after the coup and draw a line under decades of instability.

In 2008, parliament approved an amnesty for political crimes and atrocities committed since independence from Portugal in 1974 until 2004 when General Verissimo Correia Seabra, armed forces chief of staff, was assassinated.

Human rights groups had warned that another amnesty law could encourage a sense of impunity in a country with a long history of political violence.

Guinea-Bissau's chronic instability and lawlessness has bred poverty and turned the country into a hub for South American drug smugglers trafficking cocaine into Europe.

(Reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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