Guinea’s military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara has promised an inquiry into a crackdown by security forces on opposition protesters which local rights groups said claimed at least 157 lives.
But Camara, speaking on state television last night, said opposition troublemakers would be punished and accused crowds at the rally in the capital Conakry of looting weapons from a police station.
“(Authorities) will do all necessary to shed light on these tragic events which threaten social peace,” he said.
In a warning to opposition leaders, he added that any further “subversive” meetings were banned.
Camara seized power in December 2008 after the death of President Lasana Conte. He promised to ensure transition to civilian rule but has recently angered critics by not ruling out standing in a January election.
The violence, the worst since the December coup, drew broad international condemnation. Former colonial power France said it had cut military cooperation with Guinea and would discuss further measures with European partners today.
A senior official at one of Conakry’s hospitals went on state television to announce an official death toll of 52 a third of the figure estimated by a local rights group quoting hospital sources.
US condemns “brazen” Guinea crackdown
The US government accused Guinea’s security forces of “brazen and inappropriate” use of force against civilian protesters and called for the quick release of opposition leaders.
“We demand the immediate release of opposition leaders and a return to civilian rule as soon as possible, a move that the Guinean people themselves continue to demand,” the US State Department said in a statement.
The crackdown by Guinea’s military killed at least 157 people and injured more than 1200 in the West African country, the world’s biggest bauxite producer, according to local reports.
The State Department noted that “the military also stands accused of carrying out brutal rapes and sexual assaults on women demonstrators and bystanders during its rampage.”
The US statement said Washington would also insist that the ruling junta’s National Council for Democracy and Development respect commitments it has made and not field candidates for elections scheduled for next year.
It said the United States would continue to monitor “the extralegal actions of the military and government” and work with other countries for a peaceful political transition.
There has been widespread condemnation of the violence, which saw Guinea’s security forces attack tens of thousands of protesters calling for military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to step down.
The violence was the worst since Camara seized control of the former French colony in a December 2008 coup. The junta leader has said he was not responsible for the deaths and has yet to decide on standing in next year’s election.
Pic: Guinea soldier