Friday, January 19, 2007

Popular discontent shakes Guinean regime

Thursday marked the ninth day of the nationwide general strike in Guinea. According to the French news agency AFP, a 20-year-old man was killed by gunfire when police dispersed demonstrators Wednesday in Labe, in central Guinea.

Union leaders asked National Assembly president Aboubacar Somparé "to convene the Supreme Court, in line with provisions of the basic law, to declare a vacancy in power" and thus remove head of state Gen. Lansana Conté from power. They claimed that Gen Conté was 'phyiscally weakened and visibly amnesiac.' Somparé would be the constitutional successor if a vacancy in the presidency were to occur.

The UN's IRIN news service reported that marches in the major interior cities of Mamou, Kankan, Fria, Nzerekore, Pita, Labe and Kindia were also broken up by armed police, with marchers in Labé ransacking government offices.

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".

He did not say who the marchers needed protection from.

The IRIN added, 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.

Guinéenews reports that the préfet of Pita was chased out of the city by angry mob.

Union leaders met with Gen. Conté but the one-time military dictator reportedly threatened to have them killed.

Though a local journalist opined that security forces have been better disciplined than usual, analysts believe the regime is terrified of a popular uprising. Dustin Sharp of Human Rights Watch explained, "There have been strikes going back years where a handful of people [were] either injured or gunned down during those strikes. The threat is not imaginary. The consequences and the possibilities of a blood bath are very real and I think they know that."

This is the most significant public expression of discontent with the government in the country since independence.

Workers in the bauxite industry have joined the walkout. Bauxite, which is used in alumnium and of which Guinea is the world's largest producer, is the most important source of the country's cash.

Update: Friends of Guinea's blog offers a useful (mostly) daily summary of general strike news from Guinea.

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