Conde wins Guinea election

2010-11-16 07:50

Conakry - Security forces took positions throughout the capital late Monday as the head of Guinea's electoral commission declared politician Alpha Conde the winner of a tight presidential election. Earlier in the day, supporters of his opponent had rioted, claiming their victory had been stolen.

Volleys of gunfire rang out just after the results were announced in some of the same neighbourhoods where rioting had occurred.

Conde, a 72-year-old Sorbonne university professor who has spent most of his adult life in France, won with 1.4 million votes, or 52.5%. His rival Cellou Dalein Diallo got 1.3 million of the nearly 2.9 million ballots cast, around 47.5%, according to National Independent Electoral Commission President Siaka Sangare.

It capped a day in which security forces arrested demonstrators and fired tear gas at Diallo supporters burning tires. A stretch of the national highway leading out of Conakry was blocked by police trucks for most of the afternoon as police chased bands of young men, who pelted them with rocks.

The election last week should have been a moment of pride for Guinea, marking the former French colony's first democratic vote, but it has been overshadowed by ethnic tensions between supporters of Diallo, who like him are mostly Peul, and supporters of Conde, who are mostly Malinke like him.

The two groups are the country's largest ethnic groups and have a history of bad blood dating to the rule of Guinea's first dictator Sekou Toure, a Malinke. He executed an untold number of Peul intellectuals after claiming to have uncovered a 'complot Peul,' or Peul plot against him.

Claims of intimidation

Over the weekend, Diallo held a press conference where he declared he would not accept the results if the election commission refused to throw out ballots from two contested provinces which were swept by anti-Peul riots in the days before the November 07 poll.

Diallo said his supporters were too intimidated to show up to vote and his party could not even find representatives to observe the counting of ballots. However, Sangare, the president of the election commission, said his office is only able to throw out results from precincts if there is evidence of fraud, and he does not have the means to verify the claims of intimidation. He said it would be up to the country's supreme court to evaluate the complaint.

If the counties of Kouroussa and Siguiri in Guinea's far north were to have been annulled, Diallo would have won by a tiny margin of 50 000 votes, the results show.

In New York, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Guineans "in the national interest to accept the results of the election and to resolve any differences through legal means," the UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq said.

Conde's victory is bound to polarise the country along ethnic lines.

Earlier in the day tires gave off an acrid plume at the mouth of the Hamdalaye neighbourhood, a mixed suburb that includes households from both ethnicities. As word spread that Conde may have won, bands of Peul youth began attacking Malinke homes, including one where a Malinke family was getting ready to have lunch.

Street fights

They say a group of men threw a rock through their window and yanked off the metal bars. They set the mattress in the bedroom on fire. Its coils were poking out through the scorched fabric. In the living room, a poster of Alpha Conde adorned a wall, making clear the family's political affiliation.

"They said that if Cellou (Diallo) does not win that they will kill all the Malinke," said the 60-year-old owner of the house Moussa Dioubate. "I don't understand why we are trying to kill each other over an election ... It's barbaric."

Security forces began arresting the demonstrators in the afternoon, dragging them down the street and shoving them into the backs of their blue pickups. Among them was Ahmed Diallo, a young Peul man, who the police say was among those that broke into Dioubate's house.

Once in the back of the truck, an officer took off his helmet, and began punching Diallo with it, until his cheek started bleeding. "Save me," he said, stuttering when he saw a reporter. "I had nothing to do with it. I was just walking by."

Human rights organisations worry that the street fights could degenerate and prompt the military - which has ruled Guinea for the past 26 years - to get involved.

Already private radio stations in Labe, a town in the interior where Peul outnumber Malinke, were reporting that the military had stepped in to help secure the town after angry Peul began pillaging Malinke homes and businesses. Late into the night, the tat-tat-tat of gunshots could be heard.

Horrific massacre

The army is said to be majority Malinke and they are blamed for a horrific massacre last year of protesters that had gathered at the national stadium to demand an end to military rule.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher Corinne Dufka, an expert on Guinea, said injured protesters had been taken to the hospital, including some with bullet wounds.

"Once again the Guinean security forces have committed excesses when responding to demonstrators and used the unrest as a pretext to commit criminal acts. There are many wounded sitting in the local hospital with gunshot wounds and broken bones," she wrote in an e-mail.

The red beret-wearing soldiers had vowed to stay in their barracks during the election to allow a specially trained, blue-uniformed security force, known as the Fossepel, to handle election-related violence. At intersections where tires burned, the Fossepel were sparring with protesters until a truck full of red-berets showed up.

A Fossepel commander asked them to leave. "Please do not shoot anyone. Please do not beat anyone. You should go back to your command post," he was overheard saying, before they drove off.