Through the Wire

Guinea Urges Calm after Anti-government Protest Turns Violent

February 28, 2013
| Africa

CONAKRY, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Authorities in Guinea called for calm on Thursday after more than 100 people were injured in clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces in the capital Conakry.

The government is preparing for a long-delayed parliamentary election the opposition fears will be rigged.

"We call on the population to remain calm," said government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara. "The street is not the place to resolve political disagreements."

A government official said on state television that 130 people were hurt in Wednesday's riots, including 68 members of the security forces, two of whom were in a critical condition.

Thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets to protest against the May election. Clashes broke out between rock-throwing youths and security forces armed with truncheons and teargas grenades.

Police in anti-riot gear were posted in opposition strongholds in the capital on Thursday. Many shops were closed and debris, including burned tyres and rocks, littered the streets.

Opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, who lost narrowly to President Alpha Conde in the 2010 election, accused the security forces of cracking down harshly on demonstrators, adding some were arrested and beaten.

"The president of the republic has a crucial responsibility to create peace. He needs to agree to listen to others, to respect his adversaries," he said.

Conde was attending a regional summit in Ivory Coast during the protests.

Guinea's opposition coalition called for widespread protests in Conakry after announcing last week it would boycott preparations for the election, saying they were flawed.

The election set for May 12 is intended to be the last step in Guinea's transition to civilian rule after two years under a army junta following the death of long-time leader Lansana Conte in 2008. The poll was due to have been held in 2011 but has been delayed four times.

The opposition says the elections commission chose the poll date unilaterally and that two companies contracted to update voter rolls have skewed the lists in Conde's favour. They also want Guineans living abroad to be allowed to vote.

Conde won the 2010 presidential election in the world's top supplier of bauxite, the raw material in aluminium, promising prosperity for the former French colony's 10 million people whose economy produces only about $1.50 per person per day despite a wealth of natural resources, including the world's largest untapped iron ore deposit.

The European Union, a major donor, warned in November that it needed a credible and detailed timeline for the election to unblock about 174 million euros ($229 million) in aid.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said: "France calls on all Guinea's political players to hold back and commit immediately in good faith in a process of political dialogue."

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