Equatorial Guinea, amplifying charges that an attempted coup was orchestrated by an exile in Europe, said Wednesday the plot had been hatched in France."The plan was organised on French territory," Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy told a press conference.
"It has nothing to do with the French government," he said, adding, "We will cooperate with France as soon as we have more information."
Mokuy also said that in the light of the purported coup, his country was suspending participation in a new-born scheme to allow visa-free travel among six countries in central and western Africa.
Equatorial Guinea is a small, oil-rich state that since 1979 has been ruled by President Teodoro Obiang. Critics say his rule has been tarred by brutal repression, corruption and electoral fraud.
The government says that foreign mercenaries mounted an attempted putsch on December 24 but this had been thwarted.
Last Friday, Chadian Foreign Minister Mahamat Zen Cherif said after a visit to Malabo that the author of the coup bid "is believed to be an Equatorial Guinean national living in Europe."
Mokuy said 27 "terrorists or mercenaries" had been arrested in a manhunt after the attempted coup, but "around 150" others were still being sought.
Mokuy also said Equatorial Guinea was suspending its part in an agreement with five other francophone states — Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon and the Republic of Congo — to allow visa-free movement of their citizens among member-nations.
The bloc, called the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), began negotiations on the scheme more than 15 years ago.
The process was hampered by fears by Equatorial Guinea and Gabon — oil-rich and relatively sparsely populated — that they would be swamped by an influx of job-seekers from poorer members.
Negotiations culminated in an announcement at a summit in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena on November 1 that the pact had finally been ratified by all six states.
String of coup attempts
Mokuy, in Wednesday's press conference, said "free circulation doesn't mean that you can move around as you want."
"You have to have a biometric passport, a CEMAC passport, a secure passport. So long as these conditions are not met, and given what has happened in Equatorial Guinea, we say that in order to travel to our country (people have) to go to our embassies" for a visa, he said.
Obiang, 75, is Africa's longest-serving president. He has faced a string of coup attempts during his decades in power.
His country is one of sub-Sahara's biggest oil producers but a large proportion of its 1.2 million population still lives in poverty.
Relations with France are tense after Obiang's son, Teodorin Obiang, 48, was given a three-year suspended prison sentence by a French court in October for embezzling public funds, money-laundering and corruption and abuse of trust.
The younger Obiang is estimated to have used France to launder $180 million in misappropriated funds.
He was also given a suspended fine of $36.1 million. His lawyers have said they will appeal the verdict.