Bay of Plenty Times
Soldiers detain Guinea’s president, dissolve govt
Mutinous soldiers in the West African nation of Guinea detained President Alpha Conde yesterday after hours of heavy gunfire rang out near the presidential palace in the capital, then announced on state television that the government had been dissolved in an apparent coup d’etat.
The country’s borders were closed and its constitution was declared invalid in the announcement read aloud on state television by Army Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, who told Guineans: “The duty of a soldier is to save the country.”
It was not immediately known, though, how much support Doumbouya had within the military or whether other soldiers loyal to the president of more than a decade might attempt to wrest back control.
The junta later announced plans to replace Guinea’s governors with regional commanders at an event today and warned: “Any refusal to appear will be considered rebellion”.
The West African regional bloc known as Ecowas condemned the developments, threatening sanctions if Conde was not immediately released. UN Secretary-general Antonio Guterres strongly condemned “any takeover of the government by force of the gun”.
Conde’s whereabouts had been unknown for hours after the intense fighting yesterday in downtown Conakry until a video emerged showing the 83-year-old leader tired and dishevelled in military custody.
The junta later released a statement saying Conde was in contact with his doctors. But they gave no timeline for releasing him other than to do say: “Everything will be fine. When the time comes, we will issue a statement.”
Conde, in power for more than a decade, had seen his popularity plummet since he sought a third term last year, saying that term limits did not apply to him. Yesterday’s dramatic developments underscored how dissent had mounted within the military as well.
Doumbouya said he was acting in the best interests of the nation, citing a lack of economic progress by leaders since the country gained independence from France in 1958.
“If you see the state of our roads, if you see the state of our hospitals, you realise that after 72 years, it’s time to wake up,” he said.
Observers say the tensions between Guinea’s president and the Army colonel stemmed from a recent proposal to cut some military salaries.
Yesterday, heavy gunfire broke out near the presidential palace and went on for hours, sparking fears in a nation that already has seen multiple coups and presidential assassination attempts. The Defence Ministry initially claimed the attack had been repelled by security forces, but uncertainty grew when there was no subsequent sign of Conde on state television or radio.
The developments that followed closely mirrored other military coup d’etats in West Africa: The Army colonel and his colleagues seized control of the airwaves, professing their commitment to democratic values and announcing their name: The National Committee for Rally and Development.
It was a dramatic setback for Guinea, where many had hoped the country had turned the page on military power grabs.
Conde’s 2010 election victory — the country’s first democratic vote ever — was supposed to be a fresh start for a country that had been mired by decades of corrupt, authoritarian rule and political turmoil.
In the years since, though, opponents said Conde too failed to improve the lives of Guineans, most of whom live in poverty despite the country’s vast mineral riches of bauxite and gold.
Violent street demonstrations broke out last year after Conde organised a referendum to modify the constitution. The unrest intensified after he won the October election, and the opposition said dozens were killed during the crisis. —AP