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Military seizes power in Guinea

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The Late Lansana Conte
The Late Lansana Conte

Within hours of the death of the authoritarian President Lansana Conté, a hitherto unknown military-led group said it seized power in the West African state of Guinea on Tuesday, suspending the Constitution and government, according to news reports.

A uniformed army officer said on state television and radio that a group calling itself the National Council for Democracy and Development was “taking charge of the destiny of the Guinean people,” the reports said.

“The constitution is dissolved,” the officer was quoted as saying. “The government is dissolved. The institutions of the republic are dissolved.”

The apparent coup mirrored Mr. Conté’s own rise to power in a military takeover in 1984, following the death of his predecessor, Ahmed Sekou Toure. Mr. Sekou Toure had ruled with an iron fist since the country’s independence in 1958.

The latest military action underscored concern about the future of multi-party rule in Africa only years after the continent seemed to be enjoying a steady blossoming of democracy. In the past few years, there have been allegations of rigged ballots in Nigeria and violence after disputed elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe.

The African Union, the continent’s biggest representative group, expressed concern at the military’s action in Guinea.

“We pay homage to the memory of the departed head of state, but we are preoccupied and keenly following this development and the succession of president Conté,” the African Union’s peace and security commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The news agency said the takeover was announced by a military captain called Moussa Dadis Camara, who said a “consultative council” of civilian and military personnel would run the country to combat “deep despair,” revive the economy and fight corruption.

The military broadcast, starting at around 7.30 a.m. local time, followed a night of confusion. According to The Associated Press, Mr. Conté’s death was announced at 2 a.m. at a news conference of civilian and military leaders. Aboubacar Sompare, the president of the National Assembly, urged the Supreme Court to follow the Constitution and name him president, the A.P. said.

Guinea is one of the world’s poorest countries despite potential riches from agriculture and minerals, including some of the world’s biggest deposits of bauxite, used to make aluminum.

Mr. Conté faced at least two attempts by military elements to eject him from office. While he formed a political party to win elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003, the elections were widely depicted as fraudulent.

His death followed persistent reports that he was ill.

Mr. Conté’s stewardship of the country of 10 million drew widespread charges of abuse from human rights monitors.

In August, Human Rights Watch said in an assessment that Guinea had “been rocked by civil unrest that has typically been met with brutal and excessive use of force by government security forces.”

“In January and February 2007, security forces violently repressed a nationwide strike called to protest corruption, bad governance and deteriorating economic conditions, resulting in the deaths of more than 130 protesters,” the assessment said.

It continued: “Chronic forms of state-sponsored violence continue unabated. Human Rights Watch has documented the regular police torture of detainees in order to extract confessions, and grossly inadequate conditions within Guinea’s dilapidated and abuse-ridden prison system. Many detainees, including children, are left to languish for years in cramped cells where they face hunger, disease, and sometimes death before being granted a trial or freed.”

Source: New York Times

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