Coup attempt in Guinea after dictator’s death
The Associated Press –
CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) – A military group seized control of the airwaves in mineral-rich Guinea and declared a coup Tuesday after the death of the West African country’s dictator, one of the continent’s last strongmen.
Video: Confusion over Guinea coup after president dies – 23 Dec 08
In this Sept. 24, 1999 file photo, President of Guinea Lansana Conte addresses the 54th Session of the General Assembly at the United Nations Friday. Conte, who has ruled the African nation with an iron hand since seizing power in a coup nearly a quarter century ago, died following a lengthy illness, the National Assembly president said Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2008. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
International Herald Tribune
Coup attempt in Guinea after strongman dies
By Alan Cowell
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
LONDON: The 24-year reign of Guinea’s president, one of Africa’s longest-ruling strongmen, ended in confusion and chaos on Tuesday as a group of soldiers seized on his death to proclaim a coup that was immediately challenged by government officials.
Troops in armored personnel carriers took to the streets of Conakry, the capital of Guinea, an impoverished West African state, but there were no immediate reports of bloodshed, according to news agencies. Rather, the “putsch,” as one lawmaker called it, began to unfold in time-honored fashion with a group of officers taking control of the airwaves to announce that the Constitution and the government had been suspended.
Soon afterward, the government denied the claim. Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souaré said in a state broadcast that he was speaking from his office and that his government “continues to function as it should,” The Associated Press reported.
The prime minister was responding to statements by a uniformed army officer 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,” news agencies reported.
“The Constitution is dissolved,” the officer was quoted as saying. “The government is dissolved. The institutions of the republic are dissolved.”
President Lansana Conté, 74, whose death on Monday after a long, unspecified illness was announced in the early hours of Tuesday, belonged to a generation of African leaders the so-called Big Men who seized power through the gun and ruled ruthlessly.
The claimed coup attempt mirrored Conté’s own rise to power in a military takeover in 1984, after the death of his predecessor, Ahmed Sékou Touré. Touré ruled with an iron fist when the country became independent from France in 1958.
Underpinned by the army, each man ran the country as a personal domain, crushing dissent while Guinea’s 10 million people slipped ever deeper into grinding poverty. Despite potential riches from agriculture and minerals in particular, the world’s largest deposits of bauxite, used to make aluminum Guinea ranks among the world’s poorest countries.
Conté faced at least two attempts by military elements to eject him from office. He formed a political party to win elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003, but the ballots were widely depicted by independent monitors as fraudulent.
Conté’s ill health was an open secret among his people for many months, but he did not groom a successor, leaving a power vacuum that some officers and soldiers apparently sought to fill.
There was some doubt about the military’s appetite for a takeover.
“It’s a minority of soldiers and officers,” the president of the National Assembly, Aboubacar Somparé, told a French television station, France 24. “Guinea is now lawless and going through a restless transition,” he said, calling the claimed mutiny a “putsch.”
“We have heard that officers are negotiating among themselves,” he added. “We are waiting for the results.”
Guinea’s chaos underscored concern about the future of multiparty rule in Africa only a few years after the continent seemed to be enjoying a steady blossoming of democracy. In the last two years, the setbacks have included rigged ballots in Nigeria and violence after disputed elections in Kenya and Zimbabwe.
The African Union, the continent’s biggest representative group, expressed concern about the military’s action in Guinea.
Agence France-Presse 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 around 7:30 a.m. local time, followed a night of confusion. According to news reports, Conté’s death was announced at 2 a.m. at a news conference of civilian and military leaders. Somparé, the president of the National Assembly, urged the Supreme Court to follow the Constitution and name him president.
Conté’s stewardship of Guinea drew widespread accusations 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. Human Rights Watch also cited evidence of police torture of detainees to extract confessions, among other abuses.
The reported coup attempt on Tuesday followed signs of a profound malaise in the country, verging on mass unrest.
Last month, frustrated youths took to the crumbling streets of Conakry for three days, throwing stones and setting tires on fire in escalating protests over high gas prices. Witnesses said that at least one person was killed when government troops shot at demonstrators.
The threat of a coup emerged long before Tuesday. In May, soldiers took the army’s second in command as a hostage to protest poor pay and living conditions.