At least three people were killed in demonstrations against Guinean president Lansana Conte that rocked Conakry and several provincial towns on Wednesday, and a late evening meeting between strike leaders and the president failed to bring an end to the crisis.
Guinea’s powerful unions called a nationwide strike a week ago. Union leaders said they orchestrated Wednesday’s march because Conte "ignored" a written demand delivered on Monday that he retire the current cabinet and appoint a new prime minister to take over all his presidential powers.
A meeting late on Wednesday between union leaders and president Conte ended acrimoniously, according to Rabiatou Serah Diallo, head of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) union. "He threatened to have us killed if we didn't call the strike off," she said. Click here for her exclusive interview with IRIN
On Wednesday evening, a banner reading “End the Conte regime, we want change” was still hanging in Kaloum, Conakry’s government district, after peaceful protests there in the morning that turned violent when riot police broke up the crowds with tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition.
One demonstrator died of gunshot wounds, and at least six others were critically injured in demonstrations in Kaloum that continued throughout the day, witnesses and Conakry-based diplomats said. One man was also shot dead during separate clashes in the lawless Bambeta Cosa suburb of Conakry, residents said.
Marches in the provincial towns Mamou, Kankan, Fria, Nzerekore, Pita, Labe and Kindia were also broken up by armed police. In Labe, 250 km northeast of Conakry, demonstrators sacked government offices, and one was killed, according to residents.
Speaking on Guinean national radio, police superintendent Mansou Mansare denied that the security services were responsible for the deaths and said they were there to "protect the marchers".
Previous skirmishes in Conakry between youths and police have been confined to the sprawling city’s remote suburbs, mostly Matoto and Bambeta Cosa, and none has reached the centre before. There were no demonstrations in the city centre during two city-wide strikes last year.
The unions accuse Conte of having presided over the mismanagement of the mineral rich but impoverished country’s economy, and allege the aging president is now too sick to deal with the country’s chronic problems, a claim backed by foreign observers.
In a statement read on state television on Tuesday evening, Conte said he needed more time to consider the union’s demands that he change the government, but did offer to cut the cost of fuel and to force foreign mining companies to keep their revenues in the country.
“The solution to the strike is in the hands of President Conte and the institutions of the Republic,” Rabiatou Serah Diallo, secretary general of the National Confederation of Guinean Workers (CNTG) union said on Wednesday, before the meeting with Conte. “We will continue the fight until our demands have been met satisfactorily.”
Conte seized power in a coup in 1984 and has been returned to power in successive elections since 1993 that have been widely criticised by the international community.
Donors and human rights groups feted the growing strength of civil society's opposition to Conte’s regime while protests were peaceful, but warn that civil strife in Guinea could threaten progress made in neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone which both experienced devastating civil wars until 2003, dragging the region back into war.
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