A military faction has seized power in Guinea Conakry, the world’s biggest bauxite exporter, just hours after the country’s long-time strong-arm president died from “a long illness.”
AFP says Lansana Conte, who died yesterday at 74, had ruled the West African nation with an iron fist for 24 years after also taking power in a coup. Bauxite is the raw form of aluminium, a major industrial metal.
In the hours after his death, army officers summoned government ministers and other senior officials to a military base “to guarantee their security,” according to a statement read out on state radio.
The officers ordered the population to “stay at home and refrain from all acts of vandalism and looting” and said a military-civilian council has “taken effective power” after Conte’s death.
AFP says Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who was head of the military’s fuel supplies unit, said on state radio that the constitution has been suspended and all state institutions dissolved to be replaced by a “consultative council”.
Reuters says Camara called the committee the “National Council for Democracy and Development”.
It adds that it is not immediately clear whether the initiative had the support of all of Guinea’s military, or just one faction. Soldiers staged a mutiny over pay earlier this year.
“The institutions of the republic have shown themselves to be incapable of resolving the crises which have been confronting the country,” Camara said on Radio Conakry only hours after Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare had appealed for “calm and restraint” and for the army to help keep the peace.
AFP adds Camara said the country was in a state of “deep despair” and it was vital that there was an upturn in the economy and more was done to combat corruption.
“Guinea celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence on October 2 classified as one of the poorest countries on the planet,” he said.
“With our vast natural resources, Guinea should be much more prosperous.”
Camara said rampant corruption, a culture of impunity and “unparalleled anarchy in the state apparatus” had triggered an “economic catastrophe which has been particularly harsh for the vast majority of Guineans.”
The African Union said it was “keenly monitoring” developments in Guinea.
“We pay homage to the memory of the departed head of state, but we are preoccupied and keenly following this development and the succession of president Conte,” the AU’s Peace and Security Commissioner Ramtane Lamamra told AFP.
“We urge all the political and other state institutions in Guinea, especially the armed forces, to ensure a constitutional, peaceful and consensual transition that respects democratic order.”
The national assembly speaker had earlier asked the president of the supreme court to declare the presidency vacant and to apply the constitution, which stipulates that the speaker of the assembly takes over temporarily and has to organize a presidential election within 60 days.
In power since 1984, Conte was a chain smoker who suffered from chronic diabetes and was at one time diagnosed with leukemia.
A career soldier, he had relied on the army along with his clan to bolster his political and economic authority since he took power in a coup in April 1984 a week after the death of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Tidiane Souare .
In recent years social tension and criticism of his regime had become increasingly open but the self-styled man of the people was more than willing to use the army to put down discontent.
“I am the boss, others are my subordinates,” he told AFP in an interview last year. Asked who might one day replace him, Conte replied: “There is no question of transition.”
In early 2007 big demonstrations hostile to the regime and the “predators of the national economy” were brutally suppressed: at least 186 people were killed.
This November at least four people died when demonstrations shook the suburbs of Conakry, with security forces firing live ammunition, according to Human Rights Watch.
AFP says nongovernmental organisations have frequently hit out at the “calamitous” management of Guinea, a country of nine million people which is riddled with corruption and rated as one of the world’s poorest countries despite potential riches including bauxite, iron, gold and diamonds.