Guinean president to be buried as junta takes over

Former president Lansana Conte was to be buried on Friday as Guinea adjusted to the rule of the military junta that has seized control of the West African state since his death.

Conte’s death brought an end to 24 years of his dictatorial rule but within hours of his passing late on Monday soldiers launched a coup and the government went into hiding.

After Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare and his Cabinet turned themselves in on Thursday, coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara said they could stay and help him run the country but left them with no illusions about
who was now in charge.

“Yesterday, you were in power, today it’s our turn,” said the army captain who has declared himself “president” and plans to lead a 32-member interim administration, made up of 26 military officers and six civilians.

“You can go back to business, let us just avoid armed conflict which would drag our country into fratricidal war.

“We helped you, you must help us,” he added in a meeting at a military camp witnessed by journalists.

Souare replied that he and his ministers were ready to serve the junta and made a point of referring to Camara as president.

“We are at your complete disposal,” Souare said.

“We thank you once again for your wisdom, Mr President.”

The prime minister and his Cabinet had turned themselves in after an order to do so from the junta that seized control on Tuesday within hours of veteran strongman Conte’s death at the age of 74.

Camara had warned that if all top military brass and government members did not turn themselves in by the end of Thursday, “a sweep of the entire national territory will be organised”.

The junta has promised elections in December 2010 and Camara told the prime minister that military rule was only temporary.

“The army’s assumption of power is transitional, and will result in free and transparent elections, after which we will return to barracks,” he said.

The coup, however, has met with widespread international criticism, particularly of Camara’s decision to rule out elections for at least two years.

France, the former colonial power, said it wanted to see “a peaceful, ordered and democratic transition” and the holding of “free and transparent elections which should be organised soon and under international monitoring”.

The United States demanded an immediate return to civilian rule in the country of 10-million people.

“The United States of America condemns the military coup in Guinea and rejects the communiqué promising elections in December 2010,” said a statement in French released by the embassy in Conakry.

But the coup does seem to have met with at least some support from Guineans with thousands turning out in the capital on Wednesday when Camara paraded through the streets with hundreds of soldiers.

The junta plans to hold two important meetings on Saturday as it seeks to establish its authority at home and win credibility abroad.

One is with “representatives of civil society, political parties, religious faiths and unions”, the second with international diplomats, the regional Ecowas economic bloc, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

There were signs Thursday that the coastal capital Conakry was beginning to return to normal with a trickle of traffic back on the roads and petrol stations open again.

Soldiers were stationed at key points, including a camp where Conte’s body has been kept. His funeral is to be held later on Friday in his home village, according to family sources. - AFP

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