Guinea president survives attack

2011-07-19 13:45

Conakry – Guinea’s newly installed president survived a rocket attack on his residence that left one dead yesterday, bringing into sharp focus the challenges he faces to stabilise the country.

Alpha Conde addressed the nation on state television hours later in a bid to appease fears that the coup-prone West African country was slipping back into violence barely half a year after he came to power.

“My house was attacked last night but I congratulate the presidential guard who fought heroically from 3:10 am until 5.00am (local and GMT) before backup arrived,” said Conde.

Heavy gunfire erupted around Conde’s house in the capital Conakry’s Kipe district and the president’s residential compound was hit by a rocket, according to witnesses and state radio.

Presidential chief of staff Francois Fall told AFP that one member of presidential guard was killed in the fighting.

Two other soldiers where injured, according to government spokesperson Darus Diale Dore.

Police had closed access to the administrative Kaloum area in Conakry’s centre early today.

The tension comes seven months after Conde took office following his victory over rival Cellou Dalein Diallo in the country’s first democratic election since independence from France in 1958.

The 73-year-old faces the daunting task of turning around a nation plagued by half a century of political violence and where ethnicity has been systematically instrumentalised by politicians.

The election in November last year of Guinea’s perennial political opponent won international praise as a transparent poll despite an ensuing police crackdown on protests that left seven dead and hundreds wounded.

Conde tried to reassure the population today that his grip on power was tight and that attempts to undermine his plans for reform would fail.

“Our enemies can try everything, but they cannot prevent the Guinean people’s march towards democracy. Democracy has begun and it will continue, I promised you change and, God willing, change will happen,” he said.

A source close to the Guinean government speaking in France said: “This is not a coup d’etat. There was no attempt to take control of roads or the airport. Rather, it is a warning shot, possibly aimed at criticising Alpha Conde’s slowness in organising legislative elections.”

The parliamentary vote was due to be held six months after the inauguration, but has been delayed as Conde wants to carry out a new population census, drawing opposition criticism.

France condemned the attack and urged the military to commit to democracy.

“Guinea must continue on the peaceful and democratic course it chose in the last presidential elections,” foreign ministry spokesperson Bernard Valero told reporters.

Guinea has a long history of coups and attempted coups, the last coming in December 2008 when a young army officer, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, seized power after the death of Lansana Conte, who had been in power 24 years.

In September 2009, security forces massacred over 150 people at a protest rally against the military junta’s attempts to cling to power during which women were publicly raped.

A few months later Camara was shot in the head by a close aide and overthrown.

A transition government led by General Sekouba Konate then steered the country to its first democratic vote in November last year.

One of Conde’s major tasks has been to reform the country’s defence and security system.

Divisions among the country’s some 30 ethnic groups – the main ones being the Malinkes, the Peuls, the Soussous and the Guerzes - are seen as a major stumbling block to national reconciliation.

“If there are people who want to sow hatred in Guinea we must not follow them. Guinea is one country, we are united, we cannot develop if we are not united and we will not accept being divided,” Conde said.

The country remains poor despite its mineral wealth as the world’s leading exporter of bauxite, the ore that is the main provider of aluminium.

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