Benin says it has thwarted attempted coup

Benin said Sunday that authorities have thwarted an attempt to oust President Thomas Boni Yayi and install a military regime in the west African nation.

In a statement read to journalists, state prosecutor Justin Gbenameto said a colonel and businessman were arrested for plotting "to block the head of state from returning to Cotonou after his trip and to institute a military regime."

Yayi, who recently completed a one-year term as chairman of the African Union, had travelled to Equatorial Guinea last month for a summit with South American leaders.

Gbenameto said Colonel Pamphile Zomahoun and prominent accountant and businessman Johannes Dagnon were in custody and investigations were continuing.

Alleged plots against the government are not new for Benin.

Patrice Talon, a businessman and former close associate of Yayi, was accused last year of masterminding a plot to replace the president's heart medication with poison.

Yayi's niece and personal doctor were accused of being key accomplices, and the president's bodyguard was also detained.

A friend of Talon's, Olivier Bocco, is also subject to an international arrest warrant issued by Benin.

Opposition groups and Talon's lawyers have dismissed the allegations as an attempt by Yayi to sideline a former ally turned rival.

Speaking to journalists Sunday, state prosecutor Gbenameto said he was informed on February 22 by the security services about an attempted attack against the state.

An inquiry panel was then created "to shine light on the affair of the attempted coup d'etat," with investigations ultimately revealing that Zomahoun and Dagnon were involved in a plot to impose military rule, he said.

Gbenameto told AFP that "the ongoing investigation will determine the other accomplices, if there are any."

Yayi, 60, is an economist who first took office in 2006 and won reelection last year with 53 percent of the vote.

Both the port and cotton industries in the nation of some nine million people are major sectors of the economy.

Some say the president has tried to position himself as an anti-corruption crusader, but his government has been criticised for its treatment of political opponents.

While serving as the AU chair, Yayi pushed strongly for a west African force to launch an offensive against Islamist rebels in Mali.