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Guinea in chaos after ruler dies

CONAKRY – Guinea was in turmoil on Wednesday as the government tried to see down a coup attempt by mutinous soldiers who tried to step into the vacuum after the death of veteran ruler Lansana Conte.

The West African nation, the world’s largest producer of aluminium ore, was left in disarray Tuesday after the death of the iron-fisted Conte, a reclusive chain-smoking career soldier who ruled the impoverished country for 24 years.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council Wednesday began a closed door meeting in Addis Ababa on the unrest in Guinea, which threatens to bring fresh turmoil to restive west Africa.

The members of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council observed a minute’s silence before the closed door discussions, an AFP reporter stated.

Troops in the west African country launched a putsch on Tuesday, hours after Conte’s death and announced the formation of a ruling council.

"The institutions of the republic have shown themselves to be incapable of resolving the crises which have been confronting the country," Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, spokesman for the coup, announced on state radio and television.

The "national council for democracy and development" comprises 26 military officers and six civilians, Camara said. The military component included a general and nine officers with the rank of colonel or lieutenant-colonel.

Guinea’s army chief, General Diarra Camara, appealed to his "dear comrades in arms" for calm and to prepare to give Conte a dignified funeral.

Camara, who had appeared on television overnight with the prime minister and parliamentary speaker announcing Conte’s death, said: "I’m not stopping anyone from having ambitions, but my wish is that we wait at least until after the funeral."

Government loyalists in the military said the plotters had been split over their choice of leader.

A majority chose as leader Lieutenant-Colonel Sekouba Konate, commander of the airborne battalion which is the army’s elite force, despite his not being the highest-ranking officer taking part in the coup, military sources said.

But Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare and the parliament speaker Aboubacar Sompare Tuesday contested the plotters’ assertion that they were in charge and scrambled to restore order.

Sompare said only a "minority of soldiers and officers" were involved in the coup attempt, adding: "I am sure they will see reason. They have not used force. There has been no threat against anybody."

The parliament speaker, who under the constitution should replace Conte, urged Guinean soldiers to oppose the coup.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders swiftly condemned the attempted coup and called for a democratic transfer of power.

"At this time of transition in Guinea, the secretary general stresses the need for a peaceful and democratic transfer of power, in accordance with the constitution," a UN spokeswoman said.

Similar appeals came from the United States, France – Guinea’s former colonial power and holder of the current EU presidency – and African Union chief Jean Ping.

Hours after Conte’s death late Monday, the coup plotters summoned government ministers and senior officials to the Alfa Yaya Diallo base near Guinea’s international airport "to guarantee their security," according to a statement read on the radio.

In power since 1984, Conte was a chain smoker who suffered from chronic diabetes and was at one time diagnosed with leukaemia.

He had relied on the army along with his clan to bolster his authority since he seized power in April 1984, a week after the death of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure, who ruled from independence in 1958.

In recent years social tension and criticism of Conte’s regime had become increasingly open but the self-styled man of the people was more than willing to use the army to put down discontent.

[AFP / Expatica]