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20 Jan 2005 11:19
Shots were fired on Wednesday at a motorcade carrying Guinea President Lansana Conte in what security officials said was an attempt on the life of the ailing head of state of the troubled West African nation.
In an overnight address on national television, Conte, apparently unscathed, alluded to a conspiracy “by those who want to ransack Guinea” and who “do not want Africa to develop”.
“In my New Year’s speech I called on all Guineans to be vigilant. Today, everyone is under threat, people are under threat, [African] countries are under threat,” he said.
Without elucidating, he said the “threats come from those who do not want Africa to develop, or those who are obeying orders from outside”.
Security Minister Moussa Sampil told Radio France International in a telephone interview: “There was an attempt on the life of the head of state but the assailants did not hit their target.”
“They were repelled by presidential security.”
The security minister said there had been arrests, but the number of people being held was not immediately known.
“Investigations are currently in progress and are going very well,” he said.
“The actions of this morning only serve to corroborate what we have always said: there is plotting going on against the regime,” Sampil said.
“Our investigation is well under way.”
Shots were fired as Conte’s motorcade drove through the heavily populated Enco 5 neighbourhood of the capital.
According to several eyewitnesses two presidential security guards were wounded.
But radio said only one bodyguard had been “seriously wounded” and was in a private hospital in the city.
The media also noted the coincidence between the apparent assassination attempt and the first anniversary of Conte’s swearing in as president on January 19, 2004, after his re-election.
The radio suggested the incident was no coincidence.
Several arrests were made in Enco 5 district, according to witnesses who saw police cars drive off with local inhabitants towards the security headquarters in the centre of town.
“When there is an assassination attempt against the president, it’s perfectly normal for us to take security measures aimed first of all at arresting the culprits and also to enhance security for the head of state and the public,” Sampil told the French RFI radio network.
Conflicting versions of the event were circulating in Conakry, with some witnesses saying the shots appeared to have been fired from a passing vehicle by men in uniform.
Others said that they were fired by security personnel after Enco 5 residents pelted the convoy with stones.
Heavy security was later clamped down around Conakry, with armed and riot gear-clad guards stationed outside the presidential palace and the national radio station.
Skeptical city residents said the entire incident was fabricated, an attempt to stifle rising opposition and dissent in the poverty-stricken country where prices for staple goods such as rice and petrol have skyrocketed.
Many West African and Western diplomats fear Guinea could be the next trouble spot in the restive region, following Conte’s amendment of the Constitution in 2003 to allow him to stand for another term and due to the tensions in neighbours Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia.
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