BISSAU (AFP) — Polls to elect a successor to Guinea-Bissau's assassinated president Joao Bernardo Vieira were pushed back until the end of June on Wednesday as critics of the army reported increasing abuses.
Former prime minister Francisco Jose Fadul, who also heads an opposition party, said he had been beaten up by men in uniform at his home in an attack that the rights group Amnesty International said was part of a pattern.
The former Portuguese colony, which has a history of coups, has been in political limbo since Vieira's assassination on March 2 which followed the death of the army's chief of staff in a bomb attack.
In the aftermath of Vieira's murder, National Assembly speaker Pereira became interim president under the constitution although the army still wields major influence.
Under the terms of the constitution an election should take place within 60 days of the president's death, but the government has now pushed back the vote to 120 days after Pereira's swearing-in.
The announcement that the election would now take place on June 28 was read out in a statement on Guinea-Bissau radio.
Meanwhile in Bissau there are reports of mounting violence by the military against its critics.
"Men in uniform forced their way into my house around 1:00 am (0100 GMT). They hurled abuse at me and beat me repeatedly and dragged me across the floor," Fadul told AFP by phone from the country's main Simao Mendez hospital where he was being treated for his injuries.
"They told me I talk to much and about things that are none of my business."
Hospital director Agostinho Semedo said Fadul's life was not in danger but that he had bruises on his head and upper body.
Human rights watch dog Amnesty International said the assault follows the arrest, beating and torture of a well-known lawyer, who like Fadul, was being treated in the country's main Simao Mendez hospital.
Fadul was prime minister for several months in 1999 and is currently head of the national audit office. He also leads a small opposition party which is not represented in parliament.
Both Fadul and the lawyer, Pedro Infanda, "held press conferences during which the military was criticized shortly before they were attacked by military officials," Amnesty said in a press release.
Fadul spoke out this Monday, saying the current prime minister Carlos Gomes Junior was using the army to grab power and place his closest allies in key government positions.
According to Amnesty, Infanda was arrested by military officials Monday last week and held for four days during which he was beaten and tortured.
Hours before his arrest Infanda, who is the lawyer of a former navy chief accused of masterminding a foiled plot to kill late president Vieira in 2008, held a press conference where he conveyed his clients opinion that the current chief of staff of the armed forces was not competent, Amnesty said.
"The military of Guinea-Bissau is using extreme measures against any opposition or criticism -instilling fear in any who might consider freely expressing their views regarding military practices," Amnesty's Africa Programme director Erwin van der Borght, said.
The human rights watchdog recalled that under Guinea-Bissau's own laws military officials do not have the authority to arrest civilians.
The tiny West African country is still reeling from the March 2 assassination by soldiers of Vieira, apparently in reprisal for a bomb blast which killed the army chief of staff the day before.
Guinea-Bissau has been wracked by coups and political unrest since gaining independence from Portugal in 1974.
In recent years the country has achieved notoriety as a transit point for the cocaine trade between South America and Europe, raising the stakes in long-running power feuds between political and military leaders.
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