Guinea junta lifts protest ban

Guinea’s ruling military junta, facing rising international pressure and mounting internal dissent after a bloody crackdown on protesters last month, has lifted its ban on public demonstrations.

The concession to the opposition comes amid a chorus of international condemnation of the leadership in the West African mining powerhouse after gunmen used live rounds against anti-government protesters in a stadium on September 28.

Tensions after the violence, which killed 157 people and wounded more than a thousand according to a local rights group, have led to France advising its citizens to leave the country and the United States withdrawing diplomats’ families.

”Public demonstrations are allowed again,” said junta spokesperson Captain Mandjou Dioubate on state television late on Thursday.

The stadium killings marked the worst outbreak in violence in the world’s No. 1 bauxite supplier since the junta, headed by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, took power in a coup last December after the death of veteran strongman President Lansana Conte.

Camara, briefly dubbed ”Obama Junior” by adoring Guineans for his promise to rein in the army and transfer power to civilian rule in elections, has since incensed opponents by refusing to opt out of a poll set for January.

He has managed splits within the military often by arresting those who might challenge him, analysts said.

But the resignation of three ministers this week points to deepening divisions within the fractious military, which has long played an active role in politics.

The US, France and the European Union have called on Camara to step down and the International Criminal Court said on Thursday it was investigating the killings. Guinea has also been threatened with sanctions by the African Union if Camara runs.

American diplomatic families sent to neighbouring Senegal are now being returned to the United States as Washington does not see an immediate resolution to the crisis, the State Department said.

Meanwhile, former colonial power France has recommended to its nationals that they should leave as Paris did not see any immediate end to the violence or banditry either. ”We advise strongly against travelling to Guinea and we recommend to French nationals present there to leave,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website.

Guinea’s trade unions called a two-day strike earlier this week that briefly paralysed the operations of major mining companies operating in the country.

West Africa’s regional body Ecowas has called for a summit on Saturday to discuss the situation in Guinea. — Reuters

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Saliou Samb
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