The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)

Soldiers detain Guinea’s president, dissolve government in apparent coup

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CONAKRY, Guinea — Mutinous soldiers in the West African nation of Guinea detained President Alpha Conde on Sunday 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 Col. 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.

Conde’s whereabout­s had been unknown for hours after the intense fighting Sunday in downtown Conakry until a video emerged showing the 83-year-old leader tired and disheveled in military custody. It was not immediatel­y known when or where the video was taken, though a soldier’s voice can be heard asking Conde whether the putschists had harmed him in any way.

Doumbouya, the commander of the army’s special forces unit, later addressed the nation from state television headquarte­rs, draped in a Guinean flag with about a half dozen other soldiers flanked at his side.

“We will no longer entrust politics to one man. We will entrust it to the people,” Doumbouya said, without mentioning Conde by name.

He later confirmed to France 24 television that Conde was in a “secure spot” and had seen a doctor.

A former U.S. diplomat in Conakry confirmed to The Associated Press that the president had been taken into custody by the putschists. The diplomat, who was in contact with Guinean officials, spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivit­y of the matter.

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. Sunday’s dramatic developmen­ts underscore­d how dissent had mounted within the military as well.

In Sunday’s speech, Doumbouya called on other soldiers “to put themselves on the side of the people” and stay in their barracks. The army colonel 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.

Observers, though say the tensions between Guinea’s president and the army colonel stemmed from a recent proposal to cut some military salaries.

On Sunday morning, 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 Defense Ministry initially claimed that the attack had been repelled by security forces, but uncertaint­y grew when there was no subsequent sign of Conde on state television or radio.

It was a dramatic setback for Guinea, where many had hoped the country had turned the page on military power grabs.

Many had hoped Conde’s 2010 election victory — the country’s first democratic vote ever — would 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.

The year after his first election he narrowly survived an assassinat­ion attempt after gunmen surrounded his home overnight and pounded his bedroom with rockets. Rocketprop­elled grenades landed inside the compound and one of his bodyguards was killed.

Violent street demonstrat­ions broke out last year after Conde organized 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.

Guinea has had a long history of political instabilit­y. In 1984, Lansana Conte took control of the country after the first post-independen­ce leader died. He remained in power for a quarter century until his death in 2009.

A second coup soon followed, leaving army Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara in charge. He later went into exile after surviving an assassinat­ion attempt, and a transition­al government later organized the landmark 2010 election won by Conde.

 ?? Cellou Binani / AFP via Getty Images/TNS ?? Members of the Armed Forces of Guinea drive through the central neighborho­od of Kaloum in Conakry on Sunday after sustained gunfire was heard.
Cellou Binani / AFP via Getty Images/TNS Members of the Armed Forces of Guinea drive through the central neighborho­od of Kaloum in Conakry on Sunday after sustained gunfire was heard.

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