No water or electricity in capital for three days

There has been no electricity or piped water in the capital of Guinea-Bissau for the past three days as a result of strike action by unpaid workers of the state-owned water and electricity company, EAGB.

The 350,000 residents of Bissau have been forced to rely on wells, many of which are contaminated, giving rise to concerns over public health.

Nivaldino Candido Lopes, the leader of the trade union representing workers at EAGB, said on Tuesday that employees had planned to run Bissau's oil-fired power station for one hour a day in order to operate water pumps that would keep the city supplied with electricity, but its fuel supplies had run out.

The five megawatt power station, donated to Guinea-Bissau by China last year, has frequently been put out of action by fuel shortages.

The workers at EAGB began a two-week strike on Monday to demand the payment of 12 months of salary arrears, 20 months of arrears in the payment of other benefits and 12 sacks of rice each. They also demanded the immediate privatisation of EAGB so as to secure its proper functioning.

A Russian company and a Portuguese/Spanish consortium have expressed interest in acquiring the company.

Guinea-Bissau's interim government, set up after a bloodless coup on 14 September, is battling with a financial crisis. Most public employees are owed at least 11 months of pay arrears.

The government of this former Portuguese colony of 1.3 million people said last week it had begun to pay salaries for October, but warned that it would be some time before it could afford to make all back payments due.

President Henrique Rosa, who has been charged with organising parliamentary elections in the first quarter of 2004 and presidential elections 12 months later, said the government needed US $35 million of emergency aid to pay salary arrears and meet other urgent financial obligations.