Guinea’s government declared a state of emergency and imposed an overnight curfew after three days of violence that followed the announcement of the result of its first free election since independence.
A rights group said it counted at least ten people killed and more than 200 wounded in the unrest, which broke out on Monday after opposition leader Alpha Conde was named winner of the November 7 presidential run-off.
The state of emergency gives police extra powers to keep law and order and will remain in place until legal disputes over election results are resolved, authorities said.
“In the interests of keeping peace, calm and national unity, a state of emergency has been declared, effective immediately, until the final confirmation of the results … by the Supreme Court,” army chief Nouhou Thiam said on state television, Reuters reports.
Conde’s rival, Cellou Dalein Diallo, is challenging the result in the Supreme Court, which has eight days from the publication of the result to give a ruling.
The poll was the former French colony’s first free vote since independence in 1958 and is due to end almost two years of military rule since the death of strongman Lansana Conte.
Foreign firms which are investing billions of dollars to exploit Guinea’s bauxite and iron ore deposits are hoping the poll can provide stability and legal certainty.
Despite his calls for calm as he challenges the result in court, some of Diallo’s mainly ethnic Peul supporters have taken to the streets, where they have repeatedly clashed with security forces and Conde’s mainly Malinke backers since Monday.
By evening, calm had returned to most parts of Conakry but there were still reports of shooting by security forces in Ratoma, a Diallo stronghold. Thiam said the army had been deployed to reinforce the police on the streets.
In a statement, the Pan-African rights group RADDHO said violence was driven by ethnic and political tensions but exacerbated by an indiscriminate response by security forces.
“We have counted ten dead across the country, of whom four are in the morgue in the Donka hospital (in Conakry) and 215 people who have been injured, of whom 36 are in hospital.”
GANGS WITH MACHETES
Security forces fired sporadically and made a series of arrests and, as on previous days, violence hit Hamdallaya, Bambeto, Cosa and Simbaya neighbourhoods, all of which are mainly inhabited by Peul communities, witnesses said.
Witnesses reported seeing gangs of youth armed with machetes on the streets in several parts of town. There were similar reports from Labe, in the north, where a curfew was already in place after violence but Malinke youth were arming themselves.
Diallo said his supporters had been targeted in an organised campaign of repression and had earlier said he had received unconfirmed reports of at least 10 dead, though he said the figure could be much higher.
“Many of my supporters have been killed … the authorities must accept their responsibility otherwise we will be forced to call on people to defend themselves,” he said.
Guinea has a history of bloody repression of demonstrations and the security forces are being closely watched after more than 150 people were killed in a crackdown on a pro-democracy march last year. The authorities called on security forces on Tuesday to refrain from using firearms.
“There are pockets of violence and continued reports of excessive use of force,” Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher for New York-based watchdog Human Rights Watch, told Reuters earlier on Wednesday.
“There are people coming into the hospitals, both from inter-communal fighting and those wounded by the security forces,” she added.
After a tense run up to the poll and a long wait for the results, Conde was declared winner with 52.5 percent of the vote in the run-off, overtaking Diallo who had led in the first round and secured the backing of the third-placed candidate.