Army officers seized power in Guinea on Tuesday hours after the death of president Lansana Conte, suspending the west African nation's constitution and summoning ministers to a military base.
Conte, who ruled the impoverished but mineral-rich country with an iron fist for 24 years after also taking power in a coup, died late Monday after "a long illness" aged 74, state television announced.
Soon after his death was announced, army officers summoned government ministers and senior officials to a base near Guinea's international airport "to guarantee their security," according to a statement read on state radio.
The officers ordered the population to "stay at home and refrain from all acts of vandalism and looting" and said a military-civilian council had "taken effective power" following Conte's death.
Captain Moussa Dadis Camara said on state radio that the constitution has been suspended and all state institutions dissolved to be replaced by a "consultative council".
"The institutions of the republic have shown themselves to be incapable of resolving the crises which have been confronting the country," Camara said on Radio Conakry.
Hours earlier Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare had appealed for "calm and restraint" and for the army to help keep the peace.
A state of despair
Camara said the country was in a state of "deep despair" and it was vital that there was an upturn in the economy and more was done to combat corruption.
"Guinea celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence on 2 October classified as one of the poorest countries on the planet," he said.
"With our vast natural resources, Guinea should be much more prosperous."
Camara said rampant corruption, a culture of impunity and "unparalleled anarchy in the state apparatus" had triggered an "economic catastrophe which has been particularly harsh for the vast majority of Guineans."
It was not immediately clear whether Camara was speaking on behalf of the army's high command or as the head of some kind of splinter faction.
The African Union said it would hold an emergency meeting of its Peace and Security Council on Tuesday or Wednesday to discuss the situation in Guinea.
"If the army coup is confirmed, it is a flagrant violation of the constitution and of African legality which absolutely forbids unconstitutional changes of government," said Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra.
In power since 1984, Conte was a chain smoker who suffered from chronic diabetes and was at one time diagnosed with leukemia.
A career soldier, he had relied on the army along with his clan to bolster his political and economic authority since he took power in a coup in April 1984 a week after the death of Guinea's first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure.
In recent years social tension and criticism of his regime had become increasingly open but the self-styled man of the people was more than willing to use the army to put down discontent.
"I am the boss, others are my subordinates," he told AFP in an interview last year. Asked who might one day replace him, Conte replied: "There is no question of transition."
In early 2007 big demonstrations hostile to the regime and the "predators of the national economy" were brutally suppressed: at least 186 people were killed.
This November at least four people died when demonstrations shook the suburbs of Conakry, with security forces firing live ammunition, according to Human Rights Watch.
Non-governmental organisations have frequently hit out at the "calamitous" management of Guinea, a country of nine million people which is riddled with corruption and rated as one of the world's poorest countries despite potential riches including bauxite, iron, gold and diamonds.